ISIL Shells Iraq's Largest Oil Refinery


A photograph made available by the jihadist affiliated group Albaraka News allegedly showing fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) engaging advancing Iraqi troops. EPA/ALBARAKA NEWS

CAIRO (DPA) – Fierce clashes were reported at Iraq's largest oil refinery Wednesday, with jihadist fighters shelling parts of the facility.

Shells fired by the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) hit a storage tank in the facility. Smoke could be seen from 50 kilometres away, local sources and witnesses said.

The Iraqi air force hit positions held by the Sunni militants in response, the All Iraq News agency said.

Baiji has been the scene of intermittent fighting since ISIL launched its blitz against Iraqi government forces last week, seizing the northern city of Mosul and a string of towns stretching south towards Baghdad.

The refinery was already operating at reduced capacity and security conditions made overland transport of its oil difficult, security officials told dpa on Tuesday.

The developments raise the prospects of fuel shortages throughout the country. Supplies to areas outside government control have already been cut off, the officials said.

The clashes at Baiji came after political leaders, meeting late Tuesday in the capital, Baghdad, issued a message apparently aimed at reassuring the country's alienated Sunni minority.

The leaders – including Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and leaders of the country's two main Sunni blocs – called for "revising and correcting the previous approach before the public to reassure everyone," Alsumaria television reported online.

India, meanwhile, said it was unable to contact 40 of its nationals in Mosul as some local media reported that the men might have been abducted.

"Despite our best efforts, we haven't been able to establish contact with them at this stage. There are no reports of any Indians targeted or involved in any violent incidents," Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.

His comments came after the Times of India daily reported that the 40 men were waylaid and abducted while being evacuated from Mosul.

ISIL and other Sunni fighters, including groups linked to the former ruling Baath Party, now control swathes of northern Iraq after a lightning advance last week.

Shiite volunteers have been thronging to Samara, the most northerly major city still controlled by the government, while Kurdish forces have taken control of disputed areas in the north.

Tuesday saw fierce clashes between militants and government forces near Baquba, only 60 kilometres north-east of Baghdad.