The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham continues its lightning advance southward after seizing control of Mosul, the country’s second largest city, and the province of Ninewa and other areas of Salahaddin and Kirkuk provinces yesterday. ISIS has now captured the Salahaddin cities of Bayji, which has Iraq’s largest oil refinery, and Tikrit, the provincial capital.
ISIS units traveling in a convoy of more than 60 vehicles advanced into Bayji last night, and torched several government buildings, court houses, and police headquarters, according to ITAR-TASS and Reuters. ISIS fighters are said to have surrounded the refinery and sent a delegation to security forces who are holding out in the complex.
According to Reuters, the 250 security personnel agreed to withdraw from the refinery complex, the largest in Iraq.
After seizing Bayji, ISIS fighters moved to take control of Tikrit, the provincial capital and home town of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Tikrit is now said to be effectively under ISIS control. According to Samarra Al-Gharbiyah News, the provincial government center in Tikrit was overrun by ISIS fighters and Governor Ahmad Abdallah is reported to have been captured.
“All of Tikrit is in the hands of the militants,” a police colonel told AFP.
ISIS also freed hundreds of prisoners being held in the city. More than 2,500 prisoners, many thought to be hardened jihadists, were also reportedly freed yesterday when ISIS took control of Mosul.
In addition to taking control of Ninewa province yesterday, the ISIS captured several areas outside of Kirkuk and in Salahaddin province. [See LWJ report, ISIS seizes more towns in northern and central Iraq.]
ISIS’ blitzkrieg from Mosul to Tikrit covered nearly 250 miles in the span of several days. The majority of the Iraqi security forces in the way of the ISIS either abandoned their posts and weapons and equipment, or melted away after brief skirmishes.
The scope of the operation, including the territory covered, indicates that tens of thousands of ISIS fighters participated in the recent fighting.
The recent ISIS advances in northern and central Iraq effectively put the terror group in control of nearly a third of the country. The ISIS already controls most of the large western province of Anbar, save the provincial capital of Ramadi and some small pockets.