Fighting results in scores dead as both US and Iran reportedly weighing deeper military involvment inside country
Sunni insurgents attempted to overrun Iraq’s largest refinery late Tuesday night outside the city of Baiji but have reportedly been repelled by Iraqi Army units after a lengthy battle that left parts of the facility on fire and dozens of people dead.
As the fighting inside Iraq continues, Obama administration officials have made new comments about the likelihood of U.S. drone strikes targeting fighters aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The New York Times reports:
Obama is considering a targeted, highly selective campaign of airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq similar to counterterrorism operations in Yemen, rather than the widespread bombardment of an air war, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
Such a campaign, most likely using drones, could last for a prolonged period, the official said. But it is not likely to begin for days or longer, and would hinge on the United States’ gathering adequate intelligence about the location of the militants, who are intermingled with the civilian population in Mosul, Tikrit and other cities north of Baghdad.
As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, a growing chorus of anti-war voices in the U.S. and elsewhere are warning against a military response from the Obama administration.
Meanwhile, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has again voiced his nation’s willingness and determination to send additional forces in order to protect key areas, including religious shrines, in eastern regions of the country.
On the refinery attack, the Guardian reports:
A top security official told the Associated Press that fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) had begun their attack on the refinery late on Tuesday night. The attack continued into Wednesday morning, with militants targeting it with mortar shells, starting a small fire on the periphery.
The refinery accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity, all of which goes toward domestic consumption — petrol, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. At the height of the insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Baiji refinery was under the control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations. Isis has used its control of oilfields in Syria to boost its coffers.
Any lengthy disruption at Baiji risks long lines at the petrol pump and electricity shortages, putting further pressure on the Shia-led government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Despite not taking the Baiji facility entirely, Reuters cited a local official and reported that the “Sunni fighters were in control of three quarters of [its] territory.”
The attackers, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have surrounded the refinery in Baiji for the past week, but a battalion of the Iraqi army inside the refinery complex, backed up by air support, has withstood their attacks.
A storage tank was set on fire in the fighting and continued to burn through the morning after the attack, which took place shortly after midnight.
Foreign workers, including 50 from the German company Siemens and others employed by the security company Olive Group, had already been evacuated from the refinery, officials from both companies were quoted by news reports as saying. The complex, located about halfway between Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, includes the refinery – the largest in the country – as well as a 600-megawatt power plant, which supplies electricity to 11 Iraqi provinces.