(Reuters) – Islamic State militants clashed with security forces inside Iraq’s largest refinery on Thursday and held on to recent gains in the west of the country, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the extremist group remained “very, very dangerous.”
The insurgents suffered a major defeat this month when Iraqi troops and Shi’ite paramilitaries routed them from the city of Tikrit, but are now striking back at Baiji refinery and in the western province of Anbar.
Baiji was attacked several days ago by the militants, who blasted their way through the perimeter and took control of several installations, including a distribution point and storage tanks. They have managed to hold those parts of Baiji.
A source in the military operations command for Salahuddin province where Baiji is located said an Iraqi army battalion had arrived to help defend the refinery on Thursday, and the militants had not been able to take any major infrastructure.
The top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, told reporters “the refinery itself is at no risk right now.” But he expressed concern that the militants had penetrated the refinery’s outer perimeter and were now inside.
Islamic State sympathizers circulated photographs on social media late on Thursday appearing to show the militants inside the refinery with the caption: “the soldiers of the (Islamic) State advance to cleanse what is left of Baiji refinery”.
The images could not be independently verified.