Militant Islamists have attacked Iraq’s largest oil refinery in the city of Baiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.
A top security official told the Associated Press that fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) had begun their attack on the refinery late on Tuesday night. The attack continued into Wednesday morning, with militants targeting it with mortar shells, starting a small fire on the periphery.
The refinery accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity, all of which goes toward domestic consumption – petrol, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. At the height of the insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Baiji refinery was under the control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations. Isis has used its control of oilfields in Syria to boost its coffers.
Any lengthy disruption at Baiji risks long lines at the petrol pump and electricity shortages, putting further pressure on the Shia-led government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Iraq’s beleaguered prime minister has fired several top security commanders after Iraqi troops melted away before Isis militants as they captured the Mosul in the north, Iraq’s second largest city.
Iraq's oil refinery in Baiji in 2003. Photo by AP/Stan Honda