Shiite militia fighter (Photo: AP)

Iraq: Troops advance against ISIS in key refinery town

Strategic town north of Baghdad has been mostly recaptured; the contested refinery's fate is still uncertain; fighting continues in Sourah and Al-Hasakah

Iraqi troops backed by Shiite militias recaptured key parts of the northern refinery town of Baiji from Islamic State militants on Sunday, a general said.



The commander of the Interior Ministry's Quick Reaction Forces, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Fartousi, told state TV that the Iraqi flag was raised over a local government building in Baiji and that troops were advancing to other areas, without elaborating.


The spokesman of Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim, said the security forces "are now controlling" the downtown Baiji area, describing the advance as an "important victory."


Shiite militai fighters (Photo: AP)
Shiite militai fighters (Photo: AP)


"The enemy has suffered a defeat and has sustained heavy losses and we hope that the whole city will be cleared within few days," Maan told The Associated Press in a brief interview, saying "dozens" of ISIS militants had been killed.


There was no word on the fate of the contested refinery on the town's outskirts, but Maan said the capture of Baiji would help Iraqi forces to better secure the nearby Baiji refinery - Iraq's largest oil refining facility and key to the country's domestic supplies.


Baiji, some 250 kilometers north of Baghdad, fell to ISIS during its blitz across northern Iraq nearly a year ago, but the refinery facility has remained contested ground with Islamic State militants and government forces battling for control. The town is also strategically significant as it lies on the road to ISIS-held Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.


Iraqi and Kurdish forces have managed to roll back ISIS in many parts of the country with the help of US-led airstrikes, and recaptured the northern city of Tikrit in April. But last month ISIS scored a major victory by capturing Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.


ISIS has declared an Islamic caliphate in the territories it controls in Syria and Iraq, and has used oil smuggling to finance much of its operations.


Islamic State fighters (Photo: AP)
Islamic State fighters (Photo: AP)


In neighboring Syria, the US-led coalition carried out airstrikes against ISIS positions in the northern town of Souran, which ISIS captured last week from Syrian rebel groups and members of Nusra Frontal, Al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, .


The Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes occurred Saturday night. The Observatory said the airstrikes killed eight IS members, including a local Syrian commander, and wounded 20.


The coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Souran were the first in the area since the extremist group launched an offensive last month on the northern parts of Aleppo province close to the Turkish border. ISIS has captured several villages and towns from Nusra Front and Syrian rebels.


Since September, the coalition has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. The coalition has also carried out a handful of airstrikes against Nusra Front. The US says it has specifically targeted a Nusra Front cell plotting attacks on Western interests.


The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, says government warplanes have been attacking rebels in Aleppo province, claiming that the "terrorist interests" of President Bashar Assad's government and the ISIS group are aligned.


In the northeastern city of Al-Hasakah, government forces have launched a counteroffensive and regained ground lost to ISIS last week, state media said. State news agency SANA said government forces have retaken the power station south of Al-Hasakah as well as a juvenile prison that had been recently seized by ISIS.


פרסום ראשון: 06.07.15, 19:14
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