Islamic State assaults Baiji oil refinery

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An Islamic State fighter inside the Baiji oil refinery complex.

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:

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Photos from the fighting in the refinery: 

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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11 Comments

  • Arjuna says:

    Good show on the layout. Multiple photos post-article text makes a lot of sense. Martyr-man looks European. Forget him and nuetralize the live ones.

    I hate how organized and equipped this opfor is. Military precision meets terrorist tactics. “Driven from” seems more to mean tactically retreated from with this gang. Any military vehicle moving in that a.o. not friendly or identified should be targeted. And carpet bomb Raqqa and their sections of Aleppo.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    These guys seem competent, well equipped, and aggressive. If they can get to the fracking towers, they could neutralize the refinery for a long time. I doubt the government/US would use airstrikes/artillery anywhere near those towers. I’ve also seen reports (https://www.facebook.com/syriahroe) of Iraqi forces as part of a tactical withdrawal from Habbaniyah towards Baghdad. If the US didn’t intervene with air-power, there would be fighting in Baghdad.

  • mike merlo says:

    it is highly, highly unlikely that the suicide bomber shown in the photograph hails from the AfPak Theater Region. In fact I doubt he’s ever been there. His nom de guerre suggests many ‘things’ besides being a ‘Fellow Traveler’ from the AfPak Region.

    With all due respect Bill there is absolutely 100% Zero Proof that Tikrit has been liberated let alone Pacified. ISIS/ISIL still has a ‘foothold’ that’s the equivalent to 20% to 30% of Tikrit.

    As usual ISIS/ISIL continues to impress

    • John says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that they are actually more qualified Iraqi army members (that is the old Baathist army) in ISIS than there are in the current army.

      • Man from Oz says:

        And there I think you’ve isolated one of the reasons IS does so well in its operations.

  • Timothy J Blair says:

    These guys are always two steps ahead of Iraqis and the Coalition. Every time we hear that they are defeated, they always come back stronger loaded with tonnes of war booties. Just last week the Iraqis and the US said ISIS were defeated in Tikrit. On the contrary, they defeated the Iraqi Army Fourth division north of Baghdad. Then north of Ramadi and now the Baiji refinery. They are using war strategem that has never been used before.

  • Mark says:

    There were ISIS job postings for media people. Did Tom get replaced?

  • Mark says:

    ” Martyr-man looks European. Forget him and neutralize the live ones.”

    I disagree. He won’t blend in India, but he would in America or Europe. Better for us, if he dies in Iraq.

  • Mark says:

    ” If the US didn’t intervene with air-power, there would be fighting in Baghdad.”

    That would be a good deal as it would hurt Iran.

    It seems harsh to the Iraqi Shia, but they have in no way reigned in their government from persecuting the Sunni or the Kurds.

  • J House says:

    The President said not long ago-‘we will not be Iraq’s air force’….well, so much for that commitment…

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