Following months-long clashes between Iraqi security forces and militants of the Islamic State group, government forces entered the Baiji oil refinery on Tuesday, according to local media reports. The two sides have been fighting over control of the refinery, which is Iraq’s largest, since June, when ISIS took control of the town of Baiji, about 130 miles north of Baghdad.
“The first Iraqi force, the anti-terrorism force called Mosul Battalion, entered Baiji refinery for the first time in five months,” Iraqi police colonel Saleh Jaber told Reuters.
If confirmed, the advance would come just days after Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, recaptured large parts of the town that had been under ISIS control since June. Last week, General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, commander of the provincial security operations, had claimed that Baiji had been “completely liberated,” according to local media reports.
“In this area, terrorists were stationed to the left and right. If God is willing, Baiji will be the main key to liberating each span of Iraq,” al-Saadi reportedly said.
In addition to the oil refinery, the town is also of strategic importance as it is located on the route connecting Baghdad to the northern town of Mosul, which is currently under the control of the Islamic State group.
On Monday, when Iraqi forces were close to breaking the siege of Baiji, a senior official told Agence France-Presse that the army’s next target would be the town of Tikrit, which is currently the second-largest Iraqi city under ISIS control.