Tag Archives: Tal Afar

ISIS takes over Iraq’s main oil refinery at Baiji – reports

A view of Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

Sunni militants have gained full control over Iraq’s main oil refinery at Baiji, south of Mosul, according to media reports.

ISIS takes over Iraq’s main oil refinery at Baiji – reports

Radicals from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, or ISIL) have been attacking the refinery, which is responsible for supplying a third of Iraq’s oil, for the past ten days.

The militants are planning to hand over the complex to local tribes for day-to-day management, BBC quoted a rebels’ spokesman as saying, adding that the militants will continue to make their way to Baghdad.

Al-Arabiya also reported that the refinery was taken over by Sunni militants. Meanwhile three Iraqi officials also confirmed to CNN the militants had seized the Baiji oil refinery.

The Baiji complex plays a key role for Iraqis as it refines the country’s crude into petroleum for domestic consumption, including for transportation and power stations, sparking fears of shortages.

On Monday, Sunni militants retook control over the northern city of Tal Afar and an airport. Tal Afar was first taken over on June 18, after the militants took Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

The ongoing offensive by the ISIS aims at achieving total dominance in Iraq by radical Sunni militants. On June 22, jihadists captured three new towns and two border crossings, one with Jordan and one with Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Monday. He held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.

“The key today was to get from each of the government leaders clarity with respect to the road forward in terms of government formation,” Kerry said.

The US’s help for Iraqi forces to defeat ISIS will be “intense and sustained,” Kerry said.

Kerry added that President Barack Obama is collecting all the required information in case he decides to order airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq, Kerry said in Baghdad on Monday.

“The President has moved the assets into place and has been gaining each day the assurances he needs with respect to potential targeting,” Kerry stated. Obama “has reserved the right to himself, as he should, to make a decision at any time.”

Earlier President Obama offered up to 300 additional American military personnel to go to Iraq and help coordinate the fight, while last week, F-18s started surveillance flights over Iraq as Washington authorized a “manned and unmanned” observation mission.

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Iraq crisis exclusive : US rules out military action until PM Nouri al-Maliki stands down

The US has told senior Iraqi officials that the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, must leave office if it is to intervene militarily to stop the advance of Sunni extremists, The Independent has learnt. The Sunni community sees Mr Maliki as the main architect of its oppression and the Americans believe there can be no national reconciliation between Sunni and Shia unless he ceases to be leader of the country.

Mr Maliki is showing every sign of wanting to cling to power despite the disasters of the past 10 days during which his army of 350,000 men, on which $41.6bn (£24.5bn) has been spent by Iraq since 2011, has disintegrated after being attacked by a far less numerous foe. He has blamed Saudi Arabia, the Kurds and treacherous generals, but has offered no real explanation nor taken responsibility for the defeat.

Mr Maliki was effectively appointed by the US in 2006 but is today seen as being under the influence of Iran. The Iranian leadership is divided on whether or not to withdraw its support from Mr Maliki and see Shia dominance and Iranian power in Iraq diluted. Iranian commanders have taken over central direction of the Iraqi army, but Iraqi politicians do not believe that Iran has a coherent plan to rescue the Baghdad government from the crisis. The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, said that “the great Iranian nation will not hesitate to defend the holy [Shia] shrines”. These are at Samarra in the front line, al-Kadhimiya in Baghdad and Najaf and Karbala further south.

The most effective shape for US military support would be air strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) fighters called in by American forward air controllers operating with Iraqi units. Drones would be largely useless against an elusive and lightly armed enemy, though US air strikes of any type would raise the morale of the Iraqi military and the Shia population.

There is a constitutional way of getting rid of Mr Maliki when the Iraqi parliament meets before the end of June. It must chose a speaker and a president who will then ask a member of the largest party to form a government. It is unlikely that Mr Maliki would be chosen Prime Minister as other parties unite against him. “It is impossible that he should serve a third term,” said an Iraq politician who did not want to be named.

But parliamentary procedures may be too slow to remove Mr Maliki and put in place a new Iraqi leadership capable of withstanding an uprising by Iraq’s five or six million Sunni population, led by Isis but including seven or eight other armed groups. The pace of the Isis advance has slowed north of Baghdad in recent days, but it is still capturing Sunni towns and villages where much of the armed male population joins it. The original force of Isis fighters, sometimes put at 10,000 men, is thereby multiplied many times.

This happened in the Sunni town of Hibhib near Baquba, which is 40 miles north-east of Baghdad, over the last two days. A local woman speaking by phone said: “Less than 100 Daesh [Isis] came into the town and soon became more than 2,000 armed men. Even teenagers aged 14 and 15 are carrying rifles and setting up checkpoints.”

The general support for the Sunni revolt in northern and western Iraq will make it very difficult for any counter-offensive, which would be facing far more opponents than Isis originally fielded. Isis now controls almost all the Euphrates valley from Fallujah west of Baghdad through western Iraq and eastern Syria as far as the Turkish border. Any long-term campaign against Isis by the Iraqi government backed by US air power would require air strikes in Syria as well as Iraq. The two countries have effectively become a single battlefield.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

The success or failure of the US and Mr Maliki’s domestic opponents in replacing him in the next few weeks will be crucial in determining the future of the conflict. A chief reason why Isis, Sunni armed groups and the Sunni population have been able to form a loose common front against the government is the antipathy of the Sunni population to Mr Maliki. They see him as systematically reducing them to second-class citizens and putting as many as 100,000 in jail, with prisoners often held because of confessions extorted by torture or without any charge at all. Hostility to Mr Maliki provides part of the glue that holds the Sunni coalition together.

But the Iraqi government’s problems are immediate and require intelligent leadership which continues to be lacking. This was shown in Mosul last week where two senior generals took off their uniforms and fled to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s semi-independent zone. Overall, some 230,000 soldiers are reported to have deserted their units.

Mr Maliki continues to take many military decisions himself. Iraqi sources say that just before Isis stormed Tal Afar, a Shia Turkoman city of 300,000 west of Mosul, last weekend the KRG President Masoud Barzani sent a message to Mr Maliki offering to send peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) to defend it. Mr Maliki rejected the proposal. Such peshmerga as were in Tal Afar were withdrawn and Isis took over.

Unless it is too over-extended to make further advances, Isis may think it in its interests to strike quickly at Baghdad before the US and Iran decide what to do and while the political and military leadership in Baghdad is in turmoil. The Shia are the majority in the capital but there are Sunni enclaves in west Baghdad which might rise up.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce meets with Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Luqman Abd al-Rahim Fayli on Capitol Hill (Getty)

Living conditions all over northern and central Iraq will get more difficult as the economic unity of the country is broken. Baghdadis mostly cook on bottled propane gas, but this can no longer be supplied from Kirkuk because the road is cut by Isis. The insurgents have also taken three-quarters of Baiji refinery according an official speaking from inside the plant. The government’s version of what has happened at Baiji according to state television is that 44 Isis fighters were killed and survivors fled.

Mr Maliki’s best chance of staving off calls for his departure is that the threat to Baghdad will get so severe that Washington and Tehran will have to give support even if he stays. He has already been strengthened by the Shia clerical leadership in Najaf calling for people to join the Iraqi army. Not everything that has gone wrong in Iraq is Mr Maliki’s fault, but his responsibility for the present catastrophe is too great for him to play a positive role in averting a sectarian civil war.

 The Independent.

Militants, Iraq security forces clash at country’s largest oil refinery

Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

An official at Iraq’s largest domestic oil refinery says Sunni militants have taken over 75 percent of the facility following clashes with Iraqi security forces.

“The militants have managed to break in to the refinery. Now they are in control of the production units, administration building and four watch towers. This is 75 percent of the refinery,” an official speaking from inside the refinery in Beiji told Reuters on Wednesday.

A state oil official told The Wall Street Journal that two fuel-storage tanks were in flames after hours of fighting before dawn Wednesday, some 155 miles north of the capital, Baghdad. The official said militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targeted the oil refinery with mortars and machine guns.

In response, Iraqi security forces and helicopter gunships bombarded positions of the militants inside the refinery, another state oil official added.

But Iraq’s government denied reports that the facility has been overrun.

Iraq’s chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, told The Associated Press that government forces repelled the siege.

Al-Moussawi said 40 attackers were killed in fighting there overnight and early Wednesday. There was no independent confirmation either of his claims or those of the Iraqi military’s retaking neighborhoods in Tal Afar. The areas are in territories held by insurgents that journalists have not been able to access.

The Beiji refinery was shut down on Tuesday and workers were flown out by helicopter, according to Reuters.

The refinery accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity — all of which goes toward domestic consumption for things like gasoline, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. Any lengthy outage at Beiji risks long lines at the gas pump and electricity shortages, adding to the chaos already facing Iraq.

Meanwhile, in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struck an optimistic tone and vowed to teach the attackers a “lesson” — even though Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts in the wake of the initial militant offensive.

“We have now started our counteroffensive, regaining the initiative and striking back,” al-Maliki said.

The campaign by the Al Qaeda-inspired ISIS has raised the specter of the sectarian warfare that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007. The relentless violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion now haunts those trying to decide how to respond.

At the White House, President Barack Obama was to brief lawmakers later Wednesday on what options the U.S. could take.

The U.S. is pressing al-Maliki to undermine the insurgency by making overtures to Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority, which has long complained of discrimination by al-Maliki’s government and excesses by his Shiite-led security forces.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has consistently rejected charges of bias against the Sunnis and has in recent days been stressing the notion that the threat posed by the Islamic State will affect all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. He appeared Tuesday night on television with Sunni leaders and politicians as a sign of solidarity.

The prime minister’s relatively upbeat assessment came as the Iraqi military said its forces regained parts of the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border, which Islamic State fighters captured on Monday. Its closeness to the Syrian border strengthens the Islamic State’s plan to carve out an Islamic caliphate, or state, stretching across parts of the two countries.

The Indian government also said Wednesday that 40 Indian construction workers have been kidnapped near Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which ISIS and allied Sunni fighters captured last week. Roughly 10,000 Indian citizens work and live in Iraq, with only about 100 in violent, insecure areas like Mosul, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

And the Turkish Foreign Ministry said its diplomats were investigating a Turkish media report that militants abducted 60 foreign construction workers, including some 15 Turks, near the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk.

Ethnic Kurds now control Kirkuk, moving to fill a vacuum after the flight of Iraqi soldiers. They too are battling the Sunni extremist militants.

On Wednesday, Kurdish security and hospital officials said that fighting has been raging since morning between Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga and militants who are trying to take the town of Jalula, in the restive Diyala province some 80 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Two civilians were killed and six peshmerga fighters were wounded, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sunni militants of the Islamic State have vowed to march to Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in the worst threat to Iraq’s stability since U.S. troops left in late 2011. The three cities are home to some of the most revered Shiite shrines. The Islamic State also has tried to capture Samarra, a city north of Baghdad and home to another major Shiite shrine.

Iran, a neighboring Shiite country, already has seen thousands volunteer to defend the shrines. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking Wednesday to a crowd gathered at a stadium near his country’s border with Iraq, said that the Islami State and others would be defeated.

“We declare to all superpowers, their mercenaries, murderers and terrorists that the great Iranian nation will not miss any effort in protecting these sacred sites,” Rouhani said.

The U.S. and Iran are discussing how the longtime foes might cooperate to ease the threat from the Al Qaeda-linked militants. Still, the White House ruled out the possibility that Washington and Tehran might coordinate military operations in Iraq.

Some 275 armed American forces are being positioned in and around Iraq to help secure U.S. assets as Obama also considers an array of options.

Sunni militants seize Tal Afar city of 200k citizens enlarging control of Iraq

The Sunni militants fighting to make an Islamic state in Iraq have scored another victory in their move to control more territory. They captured Tal Afar, a city of 200,000 residents in north-west of the country.The city was taken just before dawn on Monday, Mayor Abdulal Abdoul confirmed to AP. The report was also confirmed by residents on the phone.

Residents reported that there was heavy fighting within the city limits as Shiite security troops used rockets and helicopters in an attempt to stop the advancing militants.

“The situation is disastrous in Tal Afar. There is crazy fighting and most families are trapped inside houses, they can’t leave town,” a local official told Reuters on Sunday before the city was overrun. “If the fighting continues, a mass killing among civilians could result.”

Tal Afar is home to mostly ethnic Shiite and Sunni Turkmen. Residents fear persecution by the hardline orthodox Sunni fighters comprising the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Sham movement.

The city had been one of the few spots of resistance to ISIS in the north-west of Iraq because, unlike most other Iraqi troops, the unit defending it didn’t flee the militants. It is also located close to the regions controlled by Kurds, who have been autonomous from Baghdad in most regards and have their own militias.

Iraqi men, who volunteered to fight against the Jihadist militants, gather around buses in Baghdad on June 13, 2014, as security forces are bolstering defenses in the capital.

US-trained Iraqi army and security forces proved to be grossly unprepared to defend the country from the lightning operation of ISIS, which is now in control of a large territory, including Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

ISIS military success made US consider the prospect of joining forces with its long-time adversary Iran to help the Iraqi government in dealing with the imminent threat.

ISIS seeks to create a fundamentalist Islamist state in the territories or Iraq and Syria with the majority of Sunni population. They are one of the fiercest and most radical fighters in the region, notorious for staging suicide bombing attacks and mass executions.

Their Iraqi offensive also made them the most wealthy and well-armed militant force in the region, after they captured banks and military depots.

ISIS ‘execute’ 1,700 Iraqi soldiers, post gruesome pictures (GRAPHIC)

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) executing dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province.

Radical Sunni militants who have been capturing cities in northwest Iraq claimed on Twitter that they executed 1,700 Iraqi soldiers. The radicals posted graphic photos as evidence.

The photographs, which were posted on the Twitter account associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), came with captions that described their alleged massacre. They did not provide a date or location, but chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the killings took place in Salahuddin province, located north of Baghdad.

Some of the images show dozens of captured men in civilian clothes loaded onto trucks, with the captions saying that they were taken to their deaths.

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) transporting dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province ahead of executing them.

Another image shows men lying down in a ditch with their arms behind their head. Some of the final photographs show bodies covered in blood with several gunshot wounds.

It is impossible to independently verify the photographs and the number of people killed.

Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed the photos’ authenticity on Sunday, adding that he is aware of mass executions of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas controlled by ISIS.

Following the analysis of the images by military experts, it was concluded that about 170 soldiers were shot to death by the militants, he told the Associated Press.

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) executing dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province.

Violence continued to escalate in Iraq on Sunday, with local residents telling to Reuters that ISIS insurgents attacked and took control of the town of Tal Afar, located in northwestern Iraq.

Iraqi Gen. Mohammed al-Quraishi confirmed to CNN that the city fell to Sunni rebels. Tal Afar is located in the Nineveh province and has a population of about 80,000 people, most of whom are Iraqi Turkmen.

Meanwhile, the US announced it will be increasing security at its embassy in Baghdad and moving some of its personnel out of the capital. Less than 100 US Marines and other military personnel are headed to Iraq to reinforce security at the US embassy in Baghdad, Reuters reported, citing a military official.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) also said that a number of embassy staff were withdrawn from Baghdad on Sunday. “The Australian embassy remains open with reduced staffing levels,” DFAT stated. “We are unlikely to be able to provide consular assistance in Iraq at the current time.”

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) standing next to dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province ahead of executing them.

Earlier, ISIS insurgents seized Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul in the north of the country as well as Tikrit – the capital of Salahuddin province, where the alleged massacre of soldiers took place.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday that the organization received a number of reports of “summary executions and extrajudicial killings” as ISIL militants raided Iraqi cities. The number of people killed last week may be in the hundreds, she added.

Once an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, ISIS fell out with the global terrorist network. The hyper-fundamentalist group, which is active in Iraq and Syria, gained notoriety for its ruthless tactics which include publicly crucifying and beheading those who violate their strict religious interpretations.

Iraq came under the influence of a Shia-majority government after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime in 2003. Since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, sectarian tensions have boiled over, resulting in Sunni insurgents increasingly waging war against the central government.

US evacuates Baghdad embassy staff as ISIS militants overrun another town in northwest Iraq

A U.S. flag flies in front of the Chancellery building inside the compound of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad

Sunni insurgents led by ISIS jihadists captured the northwestern Iraqi town of Tal Afar on Sunday, reports say, as the militants continue their advance on Baghdad. The US says it is relocating some of its embassy staff to other Iraqi cities.

Follow RT’s live updates on the situation in Iraq

The militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) overran the town after fighting with security forces, several people in the town told Reuters over the phone.

Iraqi Gen. Mohammed al-Quraishi confirmed to CNN that the city fell to Sunni rebels. Tal Afar is located in the Nineveh province and has a population of about 80,000 people, most of whom are Iraqi Turkmen.

ISIS has also reportedly captured two villages in Diyala province.

Meanwhile the US is increasing security at its embassy in Baghdad, the US State Department said, adding that some personnel will be moved out of the capital.

“Some additional US government security personnel will be added to the staff in Baghdad; other staff will be temporarily relocated – both to our Consulate Generals in Basra and Arbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman,” the statement said. However, the “substantial majority” of embassy staff will remain in Iraq.

A US official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that less than 100 US Marines and other military personnel are headed to Iraq to reinforce security at the Baghdad embassy.

The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders — supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats,” State Department spokeswoman said in a statement.

Meanwhile, US citizens have been advised to limit travel in five Iraqi provinces, including Anbar and Kirkuk.

On Saturday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered that the USS aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush be moved to the Persian Gulf in case Washington decides to use military force in Iraq to help fight ISIS.

ISIS insurgents managed to seize the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit with an estimated 7,000-strong force. On Friday, Shia fighters attempted to counter ISIS momentum near Muqdadiya, just 80 km (50 miles) from Baghdad’s city limits.

The UN said ISIS forces have carried out summary executions and rapes as the group battles to take over the country.

Once an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, the hyper-fundamentalist group active in Iraq and Syria fell out with the global terrorist network. It gained notoriety for its ruthless tactics, which include publicly crucifying and beheading those who violate their strict religious interpretations.

Iraq came under the influence of a Shia-majority government after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime in 2003. Since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, sectarian tensions have boiled over, resulting in Sunni insurgents increasingly waging war against the central government.