Iraqi forces close in on major oil refinery
Military retakes heart of Beiji from ISIL in move that could possibly allow troops to attack neighbouring Tikrit.
Iraqi soldiers battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have recaptured the heart of the town of Beiji, home to the country’s largest oil refinery, according to state television and a military official.
Retaking Beiji, 250km north of Baghdad, could allow Iraqi forces a base to attack neighbouring Tikrit, taken by ISIL after the group’s advance over the summer.
It also represents a morale boost for Iraq’s security forces, which saw many of its troops flee the offensive.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said the army was pushing further into ISIL territory.
“They’ve taken most of the centre of the town and they are now pushing further into the north and the east, where ISIL fighters have their bases,” he said.
State television quoted General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the top army commander in Beiji, as saying troops recaptured the city’s local government and police headquarters at the centre of the town.
The state TV aired what appeared to be file footage of the town showing Iraqi army troops firing their weapons from behind sand barriers.
Al-Saadi later spoke to state television by telephone but the line appeared to be cut off after he said his forces were meeting stiff resistance.
Government officials in Baghdad offered no immediate comment on the reports of the recapture, the AP news agency reported.
As yet there is no word on the fate of the refinery, which lies on the outskirts of the town and has been besieged by ISIL fighters since June.
Air raids by a US-led coalition have aided Iraqi forces, armed groups and Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers battling ISIL fighters.
The US Central Command said Monday that coalition aircraft conducted seven air raids near Beiji since Friday, destroying three small units, a sniper position and two vehicles, including one used for construction.
Hundreds of US military advisers and trainers have been working with the Iraqis in their military campaign against ISIL.
However, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruler of Qatar, an important US ally and coalition member, cautioned on Tuesday that the ongoing air strikes were not enough to defeat “terrorism and extremism” in Iraq and Syria.
He urged the international community to take action against the factors fuelling radicalism there.
He specifically blamed the policies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and “some militias in Iraq” – in an indirect reference to Iranian-backed armed Shia groups – for the rise of ISIL.