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Iraq’s Biggest Oil Refinery ‘Threatened’ By ISIS

Iraq’s biggest oil refinery could fall into Islamic State hands, complicating the recapture of Mosul and overall U.S. strategy to defeat the terror group.

Militants have been battling Iraqi forces to control the Beiji oil refinery for weeks, but the Islamic State recently gained control of sections of the industrial complex, reports to The Wall Street Journal.

The oil infrastructure and military supply lines to Mosul make the refinery and surrounding area extremely valuable to whoever controls them. Beiji is more strategic than the Iraqi city of Ramadi, a provincial capital under Islamic State siege, according to Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The Baiji refinery is threatened,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren, as reported by McClatchy. “Enemy forces have placed a tremendous amount of pressure on the friendly (Iraqi) forces that are in Baiji. The enemy does have control of some of the refinery now. It’s a tough fight. I don’t know which way it’s going to go.”

The U.S.-led coalition has launched a minimum of five airstrikes in the vicinity of the Beiji refinery in the past day and will continue to conduct strikes, aiding Iraqi security forces fighting the Islamic State. Losing the Beiji refinery “would be a huge blow to the government and a massive symbolic victory for ISIS,” reports CBS News.

Warren sought to downplay Beiji’s importance on Wednesday, despite it being one of Iraq’s largest industrial complexes, according to McClatchy. The facility is nonoperational after damage from fighting and requires substantial repairs.

Militants control open areas and buildings outside the facility, using snipers and suicide bombers to keep Iraqi security forces away, reports the WSJ. Although the Islamic State does not control the facility’s main parts, it has succeeded in cutting off overland supply routes to the compound.

The Islamic State controls a city three miles away, used as a base for replenishing forces, according to local commanders. Iraqi forces hope to take the city from Islamic State control and cut off its line of supplies.

The Beiji refinery is about 40 miles north of Tikrit, the provincial capital retaken by Iraqi security forces, with the help of Shiite militias and coalition airstrikes last month.

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