18 June 2014
Last updated at 12:00
The Iraqi army says it has beaten off Islamist-led militants attacking the country’s biggest oil refinery amid reports that most of it is in militant hands.
An official told Reuters the militants had occupied 75% of the Baiji refinery, 210km (130 miles) north of Baghdad.
The army said 40 attackers had been killed, a claim which could not be verified independently.
Government forces have made new air strikes on militants elsewhere.
Fighting is also reported in the western city of Ramadi.
The government is battling to push back ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and its Sunni Muslim allies in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces, after the militants overran the second city, Mosul, last week.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared on television with Sunni Muslim and Kurdish leaders on Tuesday to issue a call for national unity in the face of the advance – they demanded that non-state forces lay down their arms.
However, such a call is unlikely to have much effect as Mr Maliki has openly sponsored the formation of Shia Muslim militias to fight alongside regular Iraqi troops, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports from Irbil in northern Iraq.
Hundreds of people have been killed since the start of the militant offensive last week, many of them believed to be captured soldiers publicly shot by ISIS-led firing squads.
During fighting in the city of Baquba this week, 44 prisoners were killed inside a police station in unclear circumstances.
In other developments:
- Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal warned that Iraq faced the risk of civil war
- Turkey is investigating reports that 15 Turkish builders were abducted by ISIS on Tuesday; 80 Turks were abducted in Mosul last week
- US President Barack Obama is to brief top congressional leaders on Iraq while in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron will hold talks with his senior security advisers
You can watch a BBC News special on the situation in Iraq on the BBC News Channel in the UK and BBC World internationally at 16:00 BST (15:00 GMT) today and follow our online live coverage.
Militants ‘in control’
The attack on the refinery started at 04:00 (01:00 GMT) from outside two of the three main entrances to the refinery, according to Reuters.
A view of the refinery in 2009
A watchtower at the refinery (archive image)
Alleged ISIS militants in the town of Baiji in recent days
Smoke rose from a spare parts warehouse and some stores of oil were reportedly destroyed.
“The militants have managed to break into the refinery,” the unnamed official told Reuters from inside the refinery. “Now they are in control of the production units, administration building and four watch towers. This is 75% of the refinery.”
Army spokesman Qasim Ata said in news conference broadcast live on TV: “The security forces thwarted an attempt by Daish [ISIS] to attack Baiji refinery and 40 terrorists were killed.”
The nearby town of Baiji was overrun by ISIS-led militants last week. Foreign personnel were evacuated from the refinery earlier but local staff reportedly remained in place.
Baiji accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity, all of which goes toward domestic consumption for things like petrol, cooking oil and fuel for power stations, an official told AP news agency.
Militants in the western province of Anbar, where the capital is Ramadi, said they had made advances, with a number of police stations near the town of Hit going over to dissident tribes.
Further north, the Iraqi government said it had recaptured the citadel in the strategic town of Tal Afar, where militants were said to have taken control on Monday.
Using unusually strong language, Mr Maliki accused Saudi Arabia – which is largely Sunni – of backing ISIS.
He also fired four army commanders for failing to halt the sweeping advance by the militants. They included the top commander for Nineveh, the first province where ISIS fighters made major gains.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Tehran will not “spare any effort” to defend Shia holy shrines in Iraq against “mercenaries, murderers and terrorists”.
He was speaking amid reports that the head of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Qasem Soleimani, was in Baghdad to help co-ordinate the fight against the militants.
Kurdish fighters are resisting the militants in the north
Baghdad has been hit by new car bomb attacks since the Sunni offensive started
The government has insisted that food supplies are not in danger and that ISIS will not be able to take Baghdad
Young Iraqis have been volunteering to serve in the battle with the militants
Correspondents have warned that Iraq could be on the brink of outright sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias (seen marching here)
ISIS in Iraq
The rebels now control the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit
ISIS grew out of an al-Qaeda-linked organisation in Iraq
- Estimated 10,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria
- Joined in its offensives by other Sunni militant groups, including Saddam-era officers and soldiers, and disaffected Sunni tribal fighters
- Exploits standoff between Iraqi government and the minority Sunni Arab community, which complains that Shia Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is monopolising power
- ISIS led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, obscure figure regarded as a battlefield commander and tactician
Iraq ‘massacre’ photos: What we know
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