On to the Oil: ISIS Invades Iraq's Biggest Refinery

Official reports militants occupy 75% of refinery, government denies

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 18, 2014 7:45 AM CDT

(Newser) – The situation at Iraq's largest oil refinery is a murky, smoky one: A refinery official on the scene earlier told Reuters that militants have "managed to break in" and occupy 75% of the Baiji refinery. Though the Iraqi army now says it has beaten them back and killed 40 of them, that claim could not be independently verified, the BBC reports, and the New York Times says reports from Baiji "sharply contradict" that assertion. It talks to sources, including a refinery worker and an Iraqi army officer who fled the scene, who say fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are in control, troops have been taken prisoner, and storage tanks are burning. The refinery sits 130 miles north of Baghdad, and there were reports that ISIS had taken over the town of Baiji last week.

  • The AP explains that the refinery exclusively feeds domestic needs, and accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country's entire refining capacity. Any substantial outage there could lengthen gas pump lines and spur electricity shortages, adding to the chaos already facing Iraq. The Times notes the refinery's seizure would also provide ISIS with "a potentially rich source of income." (It's already said to be rich.)
  • With ISIS militants in Baquba, just 37 miles from Baghdad, CNN takes a look at the implications. The city has not yet fallen, but militants have reportedly "made a great advance" on it, per officials, and many Shiite families are fleeing. As CNN puts it, for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the importance of holding onto the city "cannot be overstated." If it falls, things look "dire" for the capital.
  • Where is President Obama's head in all this? In the New York Times' telling, he's considering selective airstrikes, most likely involving drones, against the militants. That from a senior administration official, who says the campaign would be a targeted one similar to operations in Yemen and is days away at the soonest.
  • But the Wall Street Journal says the president has decided not to pursue immediate airstrikes, and will meet with congressional leaders today to discuss his preferred approach: a "comprehensive strategy" involving providing intelligence to the Iraqi military and getting support from our allies in that part of the world.
  • Iran appears ready to get involved: President Hassan Rouhani said today that the country will not "spare any effort" to protect holy Shiite shrines in Iraq from "mercenaries, murderers, and terrorists."

In this Monday, Oct. 6, 2003 file photo, an oil refinery is seen in the city of Beiji, home to Iraq's largest oil refinery.
In this Monday, Oct. 6, 2003 file photo, an oil refinery is seen in the city of Beiji, home to Iraq's largest oil refinery.   (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
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