Monday, June 23, 2014

Iraq Crisis: Key Oil Refinery 'Seized by Rebels'
Baiji oil refinery reportedly siezed by ISIL rebels in Iraq.
Sunni rebels in Iraq say they have fully captured the country's main oil refinery at Baiji, north of Baghdad.

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

The complex supplies a third of Iraq's refined fuel and the battle has already led to petrol rationing.

Insurgents, led by the group Isis, have overrun a swathe of territory north and west of Baghdad including Iraq's second-biggest city, Mosul.

They are bearing down on a vital dam near Haditha and have captured all border crossings to Syria and Jordan.

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.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Irbil, northern Iraq, says the capture of the refinery is essential if the rebels are to keep control of the areas they have conquered and to supply Mosul with energy.

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry vowed "intense and sustained support" for Iraq after meeting key politicians in the capital, Baghdad.

He said attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) were a threat to Iraq's existence, and the next days and weeks would be critical.

Mr Kerry met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and also held talks with key Shia and Sunni figures.

Speaking at the US embassy, he said US support would "allow Iraqi security forces to confront [Isis] more effectively and in a way that respects Iraq's sovereignty".

"The support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq's leaders take the steps needed to bring the country together it will be effective," he said.

"It is essential that Iraq's leaders form a genuinely inclusive government as rapidly as possible.''

Our correspondent says Mr Kerry is trying to persuade Iraqi leaders to rise above sectarian and ethnic divisions and pull their country back from the brink of fragmentation.

Mr Maliki, a member of Iraq's Shia Muslim majority, has been criticised for concentrating power among his mostly Shia allies and excluding other groups including Sunni and Kurdish communities.

A statement from Mr Maliki's office after the Kerry meeting said the crisis in Iraq represented "a threat not only to Iraq but to regional and international peace".

The US, which pulled out of Iraq in 2011, has already announced it is deploying some 300 military advisers to Iraq to help in the fight against the insurgents.

The Pentagon has confirmed that Iraq has given the advisers legal protection.

Neighbouring Iran says it opposes US intervention. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Washington of "seeking an Iraq under its hegemony and ruled by its stooges".

Isis has taken two key border crossings in Anbar province that link Iraq with Syria, pursuing its goal of forming a "caliphate" straddling both countries.

Further south they have also seized the Traybil crossing, the only legal crossing point between Iraq and Jordan.

The Jordanian military said its troops had been on a state of alert along the 180km (112 mile) border to ward off "any potential or perceived security threats".

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