The Islamic State has launched a new assault on the Baiji oil refinery in Iraq’s Salahaddin province. The Iraqi military claimed it has repelled the attack.
In photos released on April 11, the Islamic State showed its forces attacking the refinery and penetrating the perimeter of the complex. Several images detail the use of US-made Humvees and home-made rocket launchers cobbled together from civilian vehicles. Other pictures show the use of camouflaged howitzers and tanks.
Two photos highlight the deployment of a suicide bomber by the name of Abu Ma’awiya al Khorasani; the moniker “Khorasani” implies the bomber was from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
Two other photos document Islamic State commanders directing the fight from an “operations command center.” Those commanders appear to be using footage from drones flying overhead to exercise command and control of the fight.
The fighting in the oil refinery began on Saturday night when the Islamic State attacked the refinery from multiple directions, according to CNN Arabic. The suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the facility’s gate. An Islamic State ground assault team then entered the breach into the refinery complex.
While the photos released by the Islamic State show its forces within the complex, the Iraqi Army has released a statement claiming that they control the refinery after repelling “the most violent attack on the site since the siege was broken a few months ago.”
An Iraqi Army official quoted by France 24 claimed that “20 Islamic State militants were killed,” but this number cannot be independently verified. The French news site has also reported that the Iraqi troops regained control of the refinery entrance and pushed the Islamic State fighters out of the complex.
The refinery, which is Iraq’s largest, has came under several ground attacks by the Islamic State since the jihadist group began its offensive in Iraq in June 2014. Islamic State fighters have controlled parts of the facility for short periods of time before being driven out by Iraqi troops.
The city of Baiji is currently under the control of the Islamic State. Iraqi forces and Shiite militias took control of Baiji for a short period of time in mid-December 2014, only to lose the city after an Islamic State counteroffensive. [See LWJ report, Islamic State retakes Baiji after Iraqi forces withdraw.]
The attack on the Baiji refinery comes just weeks after the Islamic State was pushed out of the city of Tikrit. Last month, ISF personnel and several Iranian-supported Shiite militias were able to regain control of Tikrit. ISF, backed by groups such as Asaib al Haqq (League of the Righteous), Hezbollah Brigades, Kata’ib Imam Ali, Kata’ib Sayyed al Shuhada, Harakat Nujaba, the Peace Brigades, and many others pushed the Islamic State out after weeks of heavy fighting in the area. The United States, which initially refused to take part in the fighting due to Iranian involvement, agreed to launch airstrikes if the Iranian-backed militias withdrew. Several of these groups did not pull back, however, despite the US involvement. [For more on the Tikrit operation, see LWJ report, Shiite militias, Iraqi troops enter central Tikrit.]
Baiji, which sits just north of Tikrit, is likely the next target for an Iraqi offensive as the town is still under the control of the Islamic State. Government forces and militias must take control of Baiji to secure supply lines from the south in order to wrest control of the northern city of Mosul from the jihadist group.
Photos released by the Islamic State from the refinery:
The Islamic State suicide bomber used in the operation:
Photos from the fighting in the refinery: