A group of Islamic State fighters outside the Fatah Mosque in Baiji
The Islamic State claimed to have made advances in the central Iraqi city of Baiji after renewed clashes with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and their Shiite militia allies.
In a video released by ‘Amaq News entitled “The arrival of Islamic State fighters to the vicinity of the Fatah Mosque after taking new locations within the city of Baiji,” the unofficial news agency of the Islamic State shows the jihadists in fierce firefights with pro-government forces. The video then cuts to a group of fighters outside the perimeter of the Fatah Mosque, which sits in the southern sector of the city. Al Jazeera has reported that government forces control ground in southern Baiji.
Last week, the Islamic State launched a counterattack on government personnel in the city. The BBC reported that the jihadists attacked with “sporadic bombings” and “heavy machine gun fire” in several districts. The push forced government forces to retreat to other areas as the jihadist group captured the central district. Additionally, Shafaaq News reported that the Islamic State advanced into several central and western districts in its counterattack.
The number of Iraqi personnel killed is unclear, but the Islamic State is said to have killed 15 ISF personnel in an attack near the city’s oil refinery. The jihadist group also released photos of four of its fighters who were killed in recent battles in Baiji.
The Hezbollah Brigades (Kata’ib Hezbollah), an Iranian-backed, US-designated terrorist group, also recently released footage from Baiji. A 30-minute long video shows intense fighting in both the outskirts of the city and within urban areas. However, it is not clear in which neighborhoods or districts the militia is shown fighting.
Both videos were released after Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al Ubaidi said that the ISF and Shiite militias “almost fully” controlled Baiji in late July. Ubaidi reportedly told Russia Today that “Iraqi forces have been able to push militants back and control all the districts in Baiji except for Muhandeseen neighborhood east of the township.” Just days prior to the release of this statement, the Islamic State launched a suicide car bomb attack in the city center which killed 11 people.
The Islamic State is still thought to be in control of half of Baiji and half of the nearby oil refinery.
Baiji has switched hands several times since the Islamic State launched its assault in northern and central Iraq in June 2014. The jihadist group took control of the city in its initial assault. Iraqi forces regained control of Baiji in December 2014, but lost it after several weeks of fighting. Iraqi troops and Shiite militas launched their latest offensive in June 2015, and fighting has been ongoing.
Baiji hosts Iraq’s largest oil refinery. Much of the infrastructure at the facility is said to have been destroyed during the fighting over the past several months. [See LWJ report, Fighting at Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery is ‘flowing in the wrong direction’.]
The Iraqi government must regain control of Baiji if it plans on liberating Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from the Islamic State.
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