Islamic State militants battled with security forces inside Iraq’s largest refinery on Thursday and are looking like a serious threat to the area, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the extremist group remained “very, very dangerous”.
The group suffered a huge loss this month when Iraqi troops and Shiite paramilitaries made them run away from the city of Tikrit, but they are now fighting back at Baiji refinery and in the western province of Anbar.
Baiji had already been a target of several attacks days ago by the militants, who blasted their way through the area and took part of the refinery, including a distribution point and storage tanks. The group has been successful in holding onto that area.
Defending The Area
A source in the military operations command for Salahuddin province where Baiji is located said Iraqi troops had arrived to help defend the refinery on Thursday, and they held the militants from taking other parts.
Islamic State supporters bragged about this attack on social media and showed the militants inside the refinery with the caption: “the soldiers of the (Islamic) State advance to cleanse what is left of Baiji refinery”.
The images posted have not been verified.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the militants wanted to send a message after being forced out of Tikrit. He spoke from the Center for International and Strategic Studies think tank in Washington. “I think it’s timed to (coincide with) my visit to the U.S. I think they want to show that despite the support that Iraq is receiving, they are there to cause damage.”
In Washington, Abadi showed plans to prioritize the battles in both Baiji and Anbar, where the group has held on and is getting stronger and stronger.
The government last week announced a new military offensive to recapture Anbar, they want to build momentum from Tikrit’s capture.
The governor of Anbar Sohaib, al-Rawi, speaking on Iraq state TV said “all sons of Iraq” were welcome to participate in freeing the area from the extremists, this gives the Shiite paramilitaries the chance to join in.
Dempsey said Baiji was more important to take back than Anbar, given Baiji’s critical oil infrastructure. He also did not rule out Ramadi being captured.
“I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of the campaign should it fall. We got to get it back,” Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference.
Shiite militia have been huge in slowing down the insurgents after the army disintegrated last summer, but some tribes living in Anbar, a Sunni province, are not happy about them getting involved in the clashes after what happened in Tikrit with the accusations of looting.
A member of the police in Anbar confirmed Shiite militias have arrived to Ramadi to help stop the deadly group from taking more areas around the country.