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IS begins fresh attack on Baiji, Iraq, refinery

The facility has been under assault since June 2014.

By Ed Adamczyk
IS begins fresh attack on Baiji, Iraq, refinery
Part of the oil refinery complex at Baiji, Iraq. U.S. Army/ DVIDSHUB

BAIJI , Iraq, May 7 (UPI) -- A new Islamic State assault on a key oil refinery at Baiji, Iraq, began Thursday, and Pentagon officials are concerned it will soon fall into enemy hands.

Control of the refinery, Iraq's largest, has been contested for weeks between Islamic State forces and the Iraqi military. IS has reinforced positions around the city since its failure to hold the city of Tikrit. Baiji is about 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Baghdad.

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"The Baiji refinery is threatened," said Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren. "Enemy forces have put a tremendous amount of pressure on friendly forces in Baiji." He added IS forces control some, but not all, of the refinery complex, but a senior official, referencing Iraqi security forces, said the entire complex was about to fall into enemy hands.

Earlier this week, U.S. warplanes conducted airstrikes near Baiji. The pentagon said vehicles, buildings and large amounts of explosives were destroyed.

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Both IS and Iraqi forces regard the refinery as crucial to the control of Iraq's infrastructure and economy, as well as influence over a key military supply line to Mosul, a city now in IS hands. The refinery has been severely damaged in the fighting, though, with repairs expected to take up to a year, and Pentagon officials suggest IS could not operate the facility even if it can be captured.

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"I don't know the refinery itself will be able to provide any material benefit to the enemy," Warren said. The complex formerly produced 300,000 barrels of refined oil products per day, but its output has been reduced since IS began its siege in June 2014. The attack was repelled later in the year, but IS regained a foothold in the refinery in April 2015.

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