ISIS takes control of Iraq's largest refinery in Bayji
The video above, which was uploaded by an ISIS sympathizer who goes by the name Abu Bassir and who claims the video of "violent clashes" was taken on June 18, shows plumes of smoke rising from the Bayji refinery.
According to reports from Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham is now in control of the Bayji oil refinery, the largest facility of its kind in Iraq. The Iraqi military has claimed it repelled the ISIS assault, which began late last night after a weeklong siege, but The New York Times cites eyewitness reports telling just the opposite:
Reports from Bayji sharply contradicted that assessment [the Iraq military's claim that it repelled the assault]. A refinery worker who gave only his first name, Mohammad, reached by telephone, said that the refinery had been attacked at 4 a.m. and that workers had taken refuge in underground bunkers. In the course of the fighting, 17 gas storage tanks were set ablaze, although it was not clear by which side. After taking heavy losses, the troops guarding the facility surrendered and at least 70 were taken prisoner, he said.
Refinery workers were sent home unharmed by the extremists, Mohammad said.
A lieutenant from the battalion guarding Bayji, also reached by telephone and speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had fled his unit when it became clear that it would not be able to hold out against ISIS forces.
Eyewitnesses in the area also reported seeing ISIS checkpoints controlling access to the sprawling refinery area, and smoke rising over the complex from numerous fires.
Management at the refinery shut down operations earlier in order to minimize potential damage during fighting for the complex, and evacuated foreign staff. The ISIS had seized control of the 600-megawatt power generation station at Bayji when it took over the city last week.
The ISIS' speedy southward advance from Mosul all the way to the outskirts of Samarra as well as Baqubah has slowed a bit over the past week as Iraqi reinforcements have arrived in the current battleground cities and towns just north of Baghdad. But ISIS has managed to keep most of its gains in Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces. And Iraqi military efforts to retake the Bayji refinery or the western Ninewa town of Tal Afar have so far been unsuccessful.