Video released by the Islamic State’s ‘Amaq News from the Baiji oil refinery.
Security forces based at the country’s largest oil refinery in Baiji are in danger of losing control of the strategic facility, Iraqi officers and US officials have warned. The Islamic State controls large areas inside the refinery and have besieged the remaining Iraqi troops. The Iraqi military and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are moving towards Baiji in an effort to break the siege.
Iraqi officers have painted a dire picture of the situation inside the refinery. A colonel said that the complex “had been completely surrounded after militants cut all remaining supply routes used by the security forces,” Reuters reported. The Islamic State has mounted several attacks, including suicide bombings, in order to gain significant ground at the facility. The colonel also said that “up to two thirds” of the refinery is under the jihadist group’s control.
A special forces officer interviewed by Reuters also said that several sub-refineries, the northern part of the refinery, and a large portion of the southern part of the complex is under Islamic State control. The jihadist group has pushed so far into the refinery that airstrikes will be difficult to conduct without damaging the facility, according to one Iraqi officer.
The US military has also warned that the situation in Baiji is in danger of spiraling out of control. Yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters that the fighting is “flowing in the wrong direction,” in favor of the Islamic State.
“It could still turn around. At this point, it’s impossible to predict how it’s going to play out,” Warren stated, according to Reuters.
Islamic State in control of most of the refinery
Reports from the Baiji refinery confirm that the jihadists are in control of large sections of the sprawling complex. At least “200 policemen, soldiers, and elite special forces” are besieged by the Islamic State, Reuters reported. An officer at the scene said that troops are running low on food, water, and ammunition.
Estimates of how much of the complex is under the control of the Islamic State vary. Iraq Oil Report reported last week that the Islamic State may control up to 80 percent of the refinery. This contradicts what an Iraqi official told McClatchy; he claimed that security forces “control more than 60 percent.” An official speaking with Sky News Arabia has estimated that the jihadist group controls around “90 percent.”
Iraqi forces inside Baiji have called for reinforcements in recent days. The Iraqi government in Baghdad is reportedly sending several brigades to relieve the besieged forces.
The Shiite militia group Kata’ib Jund al Imam, which is ideologically aligned with Iran, has also answered the call for reinforcements. The militia has a number of fighters present at the complex. Additionally, in a video published on the group’s Facebook page, the militia highlights some recent battles with the Islamic State in Baiji.
The US military has also been targeting the Islamic State in the area. Yesterday, US Central Command noted that it launch four airstrikes in Baiji that “struck one large and two small ISIL [Islamic State] tactical units, destroying five ISIL fighting positions, eight ISIL structures, six ISIL fuel tanks, three ISIL vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and an ISIL vehicle.” The Islamic State has continued to advance at the refinery despite US airstrikes.
Jihadists promote successes in Baiji
The Islamic State has seized on its successes at Baiji in its propaganda. In a short video released by ‘Amaq News, the Islamic State’s unofficial news agency, the jihadist group can be seen controlling several areas within the oil refinery complex. Several scenes show the jihadists battling the Iraqi force, which appear to be on the outskirts of the complex. Other scenes show militants walking through the facility while several oil tanks are burning. The Islamic State’s flag is seen flying in various locations.
The Islamic State has released additional material from the battle in recent days. In one photo set, a Syrian suicide bomber, identified as Abu Majid al Shami, detonated on ISF positions on the outskirts of the refinery. In a second photo set, another Syrian suicide bomber, Abu Khalid al Shami, and a Saudi suicide bomber detonated on Iraqi military positions within the refinery complex.
The Islamic State has also released a photo set detailing its casualties. One fighter who was killed was a Chechen commander, identified as Abu Ibrahim al Shishani, who also used to run a training camp for the Islamic State. Another photo set from last week highlighted heavy firefights between the Islamic State and Iraqi forces at the complex.