24 Jun 2014

Isis rebels ‘capture’ Baiji Iraq oil refinery

Sunni rebels in Iraq claim they have fully captured the country’s main oil refinery at Baiji, north of Baghdad.

Above: footage, released by the Iraqi military, shows air strikes against what it describes as militant targets near to Baiji refinery

The refinery had been under siege for 10 days, with the militants’ offensive being repulsed several times.

A rebel spokesman said the Baiji refinery, in Salahuddin province, would now be handed over to local tribes to administer.

The spokesman said that the advance towards Baghdad would continue.


Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Irbil on Tuesday to urge the autonomous Kurdish region’s president not to turn his back on the talks in Baghdad.

Mr Kerry will urge leaders in in Iraqi Kurdistan not to withdraw from the political process in Baghdad after their forces took control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk.

Peshmerga fighters, the security forces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north, seized control of Kirkuk on 12 June after the Iraqi military fled in the face of an onslaught from Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis).

Kurds have long dreamed of taking Kirkuk, a city with huge oil reserves just outside the autonomous region, which they regard as their historical capital.

Above: a US Geological Survey satellite image shows smoke rising from the Baiji refinery

If they hold onto Kirkuk, revenues from its major oilfields could far surpass any budget offer from Baghdad, boosting its ambition of succeeding as a fully independent state.

But Mr Kerry, who is on a tour of Middle East countries to discuss the deepening crisis in Iraq, hopes to convince Kurdish leaders to be part of a new government in Baghdad where they can assume senior positions and have a say in the oil wealth.

Battle for Baghdad

While in Baghdad on Monday, Mr Kerry said he had been assured by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki he would meet a 1 July deadline to form a new inclusive government. Washington is pressing Mr Maliki to move quickly in the face of gains by Sunni militants who have advanced toward the capital.

Mr Kerry’s visit will be very important both to confer with the Kurdish leadership and also encourage them to play a very active role in this government formation process, a senior State Department official said.

“If they decide to withdraw from the Baghdad political process it will accelerate a lot of the negative trends,” the official said.

The new territory includes vast oil deposits the Kurdish people regard as their birthright and foundation for the prosperity of a future independent homeland.

With full control of Kirkuk, the Kurds could earn more on their own, eliminating the incentive to remain part of a failing Iraq and leaving them in the strongest position ever to secure the city many Kurds consider their spiritual capital.

Still, the Kurds have slowly moved to securing oil deals with Turkey and international companies, moves that Washington regard as illegal because the oil wealth should benefit all Iraqis, not just a few.

“If we are to have a chance… to use this process of forming a new government to reset the political foundation here, the Kurds have to be a critical part of that process, and we think they will be,” the official added.