Iraqi forces, backed by the U.S., and Shiite militias linked to Iran, seized back “key parts of the northern refinery town of Baiji” from Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists on Sunday, according to media reports.
Al Bawaba, quoting an Iraqi general, reports that “Iraqi troops backed by Shiite militias recaptured key parts of the northern refinery town of Baiji from ISIS militants Sunday.”
“The commander of the Interior Ministry’s Quick Reaction Forces, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Fartousi, told state TV that the Iraqi flag was raised over a local government building in Baiji and that troops were advancing to other areas, without elaborating,” it continued.
Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, said the Iraqi forces “are now controlling” downtown Baiji, adding that the advance is an “important victory.”
Baiji is home to Iraq’s largest oil refinery.
“The enemy has suffered a defeat and has sustained heavy losses and we hope that the whole city will be cleared within few days,” Maan told The Associated Press (AP), noting that “dozens” of ISIS jihadists had been killed.
CNN reports that Brig. Gen. Tahseen Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Iraqi defense ministry, credited the U.S. with “a significant role supporting” Iraqi ground troops in the offensive to retake the refinery town.
The general did not elaborate on what kind of support the Iraqi forces received from the United States.
“Forces have cleansed and are in control completely of government complex, city center, Fatah mosque (main mosque) and surrounding neighborhoods,” said Gen. Ibrahim.
“We can announce that Baiji city is completely liberated and the Iraqi flag was raised over the governor building,” added Muhammed al-Eqabi, a spokesman for the Hash al-Shaabi Shiite militia, according to CNN.
“Beiji, some 155 miles north of Baghdad, fell to ISIS during its blitz across northern Iraq nearly a year ago, but parts of the town and nearby refinery have since been retaken by government forces,” notes AP. “The town is strategically significant as it lies on the road to ISIS-held Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.”
“Iraqi and Kurdish forces have managed to roll back ISIS in many parts of the country with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, and recaptured the northern city of Tikrit in April,” it adds. “But last month ISIS captured Ramadi, the provincial capital of the western Anbar province, in the extremists’ most significant advance since last year.”
Oil-smuggling has been a lucrative source of funding for ISIS.