BAGHDAD, June 24 (UPI) -- Islamist militants in Iraq have taken full control of the largest oil refinery in the country, though the government said Tuesday the claims are false.
The BBC reported Tuesday a "reliable source" has said militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have "full control" over the Baiji oil refinery. The British broadcaster reported there were 160 Iraqi soldiers inside the refinery who agreed to lay down their weapons in exchange for safe passage to Erbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.
The refinery in Saladin province, north of Baghdad, has been closed at least since last week. It feeds the domestic market and a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said last week oil exports from Iraq weren't limited by the insurgency.
Sunni-led militants have taken control over key cities in northwestern Iraq.
The seizure of the Baiji oil refinery comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Baghdad to try to find a political solution to a crisis that erupted more than two years after U.S. combat forces left Iraq.
"Iraq is a strategic partner of the United States, with shared interests in countering the scourge of terrorism, maintaining stability of the global energy markets, and easing the sectarian polarization that plagues this region," Kerry said.
A military spokesman told the BBC they've been able to repel all terrorist attacks at Baiji.