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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.

Iraqi and Syrian towns and cities seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Map created by The Long War Journal. Click to view larger map.

READER COMMENTS: "ISIS takes control of Iraq's largest refinery in Bayji"

Posted by Mike E at June 18, 2014 11:28 AM ET:

This could have been prevented by US airpower and small numbers of ground personnel to target strikes. Oh well, good job US.

Posted by James at June 19, 2014 12:36 AM ET:

What amazes me about the current sorry state of affairs is that we know (or should know) that surely ISIS will use the fuel and the vehicles they've managed to pilfer for VBIED attacks.

You would think that at least if these vehicles can't be destroyed that they would at least focus on interrupting or even destroying the fuel supplies.

An insurgency can not survive without outside support. Where are they getting their fuel supplies from in addition to their ammo?

I say that both we and Iraq would be better off to just destroy the refinery rather than let it fall into enemy hands.

This might be the real objective in ISIS's going after that refinery (i.e., to supply fuel for themselves and any VBIED's); not so much as interfering with Iraq's economic prospects.

Posted by M. Muthuswamy at June 19, 2014 1:08 AM ET:

Mike, you have to let the Iraqi Shiites fight back and make the war their own. A defeat is a good way to start and will help cronies get thrown out and get more competent generals to take over.

Actually, the Iraqi Shiites are still well positioned to win this.

If America gets involved, it will certainly help in the short-term, but will make the Shiites only more dependent. Moreover, in the long run, anyone allied with the US in the Middle East/South Asia, IMO will lose, because America has no viable strategy and will make its allies fight a war with arms and legs tied.

Past decade has shown that a lack of strategic knowhow can doom a most prepared and powerful military power.

Posted by Aezino at June 19, 2014 12:03 PM ET:

I would prefer that we not intervene at this point.

In the past we intervened, we bled and we had a chance to make a difference in Iran during the Persian Spring.

It was all thrown away with 2 elections.

Are we to bleed again only to have it thrown away with another election of a donkey (choose your word).

If our choices are to bleed, elect a Democrat, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and rinse and repeat, or a regional war, the latter is the less painful option.

Stay out let them fight.

been there done that.

Posted by Drew Beard at June 19, 2014 1:20 PM ET:

Why should we have to intervene in Iraq's civil war. I spent 6 months at that refinery establishing anti-corruption measures and 6 more months training Iraqi officers how to conduct tactical operations. The refinery went to shit because military leadership in Iraq is based on family lineage and not tactical capacity. Every junior leader was more concerned with how they can stay safe versus how they can defend their own country. It was an obvious waste of time to try and instil national pride and a true sense of work ethic. It was absolutely no shock to me that officers are dropping their weapons and abandoning thier post and their soldiers. A waste of American time effort and money to try instill values into those who are only driven by selfish motives.

Posted by anan at June 19, 2014 3:51 PM ET:

Bill, it appears that Tal Afar is contested with both sides controlling portions of the city:

Suspect the battle of Tal Afar is the most strategically significant battle taking place right now in Iraq or Syria. If 3rd IAD augmented by 1st IAD are able to cut off part of ISIS' supply lines between Syria and ISIS positions in Iraq; it would represent a major strategic defeat for ISIS.

There appears to be heavy continued fighting in Bayji. ISIS has not succeeded in clearing and holding Bayjii. With the heavy losses and logistical strains ISIS has suffered in many theaters across Iraq, even modest ISF reinforcements in Bayji might be sufficient to change the tide of battle.

ISIS is spread thinly and pinned down in many simultaneous engagements, lacking sufficient supply, transportation and maintenance enablers. This is one reason President Obama decided to send advisers to help the ISF create a joint operations center to coordinate the ISF in Northern Iraq. The ISF can blitz ISIS with a rapid change of momentum much the way ISIS blitzed the ISF early this month.

Posted by Mike e at June 20, 2014 12:24 AM ET:

There are conflicting reports that Iraq has seized back the refinary or never really lost it in the first place. Anyone have more insight?

Posted by mike e at June 20, 2014 12:34 AM ET:

"ISIS is spread thinly and pinned down in many simultaneous engagements, lacking sufficient supply, transportation and maintenance enablers. This is one reason President Obama decided to send advisers to help the ISF create a joint operations center to coordinate the ISF in Northern Iraq. The ISF can blitz ISIS with a rapid change of momentum much the way ISIS blitzed the ISF early this month."

Anan makes a great point. US helicopters and aircraft could make this a massive ISIS route and help the moderate rebels in Syria as an added bonus. It is beyond stupid that the USA has not sent airpower.

Posted by m3fd2002 at June 20, 2014 11:40 AM ET:

Don't under estimate ISIS. No one has mentioned Fallujah and Ramadi. They have had complete control of Fallujah for months, apparently Abu Ghraib, which is in mortar/rocket range of the airport, is a no-go zone for the Iraqi Army. Tal Afar is a most likely gone to the Sunni rebellion. Drew Beard has a very good understanding about the facts on the ground in Iraq (for that matter the entire Arab world). It's tribal/family first where corruption and/or nepotism is a fine art. No factions are competent relative to US/Western standards, so don't use that standard. The competent professionals from those countries tend to leave at the first chance at a visa. Iraqis, deserved or not, are going to suffer along with the Syrians for a very long time.

Posted by Aezino at June 20, 2014 9:49 PM ET:

"A defeat is a good way to start and will help cronies get thrown out and get more competent generals to take over."
- M. Muthuswamy

Of course a defeat could just get the population demoralized and engender future defeats. But if they obtain a victory or give as good as they get I think you are right.

Posted by James at June 21, 2014 1:07 AM ET:


I greatly respect and appreciate the sacrifices you and others in our military made over there.

All I'm saying that is if push comes to shove and that refinery falls under ISIS control we would be better off (and arguably the Iraqi people would be better off) if we were to just blow the whole place to smithereens.

At the very least we should attempt to disable the refinery's capacity to refine oil into gas.

I honestly believe that ISIS's ulterior motive in going after that refinery is not so much to humiliate the Iraqi military or attack the Iraqi economy, I believe it's main hidden motive is that it needs the fuel oil produced at the refinery to fuel itself and further attacks.

What good is an assault rifle without any ammo to put in it? What good is a VBIED without any fuel in it to drive it?

Considering other posts made on this thread, isn't it possible that ISIS has made a strategic mistake in trying to now wage a war on two fronts (with Iran on one side and Syria on the other)? This calls to mind the mistake that Hitler made.