Iraqi Forces Retake Baiji Refinery From Islamic State, U.S. Says

Iraqi security forces have regained full control of the Baiji oil refinery after clearing out remaining Islamic State fighters, the U.S. military said Sunday.

The recapture of the facility in northern Iraq means the radical Sunni Islamic State organization can’t generate oil revenue in Iraq, although it also holds land in neighboring Syria.

“Once the Iraqis have full control of Baiji, they will control all of their oil infrastructure, both north and south, and deny ISIL the ability to generate revenue through oil,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference Thursday. ISIL is an acronym for Islamic State.

Iraq’s oil production could increase to as much as 7 million barrels a day by 2020, from about 4 million barrels now, the country’s oil minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

Crude exports by OPEC’s second largest producer after Saudi Arabia could rise to 3.1 million barrels a day in April, from 2.98 million barrels last month, he said.

Iraqi forces were assisted by the U.S.-led coalition that is conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State, which has declared a self-styled caliphate, or religious state, in parts of both countries.

Coalition aircraft conducted 47 strikes in and around Baiji over the past nine days, according to a statement from the coalition.

Great Resolve

Kurdish forces, also backed by airstrikes, recaptured dozens of square miles formerly held by Islamic State in northern Iraq on Saturday, the coalition said.

Iraqi forces “have demonstrated great resolve and proven that the tactical momentum resides with them, not only in Baiji, but in many other locations throughout Iraq,” Lieutenant General James Terry, the top U.S. commander for military operations in Iraq and Syria, said in the statement.

Iraqi officials also took credit last month for the liberation of Tikrit, the Sunni-dominated hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Even as Islamic State forces lose ground in some areas, though, they make gains elsewhere. In recent days, they have stepped up their offensive on Ramadi, the capital of the largely Sunni Muslim Anbar province. The fight for Ramadi has persisted for months.

The coalition said in its statement that Iraqi forces are “defending terrain and reinforcing forces within Ramadi.”

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