Islamic State militants hit back with suicide bombing, kill 7 soldiers, injure 13
Iraqi soldiers battling the ISIS recaptured most of the town of Baiji, home to the country’s largest oil refinery, state television and a provincial governor said Tuesday.
The strategic town, 250 km north of Baghdad, will likely be a base for a future push to take back Saddam Hussein’s hometown just to the south, one of the main prizes overrun by the extremists last summer. But troops backed by Shia militias faced pockets of stiff resistance around Baiji, hindering their advance.
There was no word on the fate of the refinery, which lies on Baiji’s northern outskirts, but the advances in the town could help break the five-month siege of the facility by ISIS fighters. Since June, a small army unit inside the refinery, resupplied and reinforced by air, has successfully resisted wave after wave of extremist assaults.
Lifting the siege of the refinery, which sits inside a sprawling complex, was likely the next objective in the campaign to rid Baiji of the militants, according to military officials reached in the town by telephone.
Hours after news from Baiji broke, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a military outpost in the Tarmiyah district north of Baghdad, killing seven soldiers and wounding 13, according to police and hospital officials.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of the ISIS.
State television quoted the top army commander in Baiji, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, as saying troops recaptured Baiji’s local government and police headquarters at the centre of the town. It aired footage taken Tuesday of army tanks and armored personnel carriers moving around the town’s dusty streets and a ball of white smoke rising in the background.
Raed Ibrahim, governor of Salahuddin province, where both Baiji and Tikrit are located, said the military had secured about 75 percent of the town as of Tuesday. He said forces continued to meet fierce resistance from the militants, whom he said were using suicide bombers to stall the military’s advance.