ISIS battles Iraqi forces near Baiji refinery
ISIS fighters were present in four of Baiji's 12 neighborhoods, as well as areas on the perimeter of the sprawling refinery complex
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents battled with Iraqi government forces in the center of Baiji on Tuesday - around 200km north of the capital Baghdad - a week after the army broke their prolonged siege of the country's largest oil refinery just outside the town, according to an army officer and residents.
The fresh spate of fighting in Baiji by ISIS, who control large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, appeared to be aimed at reimposing that stranglehold around the large oil refinery facility four kilometers to the north.
ISIS fighters were present in four of Baiji's 12 neighborhoods, as well as areas on the perimeter of the sprawling oil complex. However, the army controlled its southern approaches, preventing insurgents from surrounding it, according to a Baiji resident who toured the area.
On Monday an ISIS video circulated on the Internet showing its fighters denying that they had been driven out of Baiji, and what purported to be two suicide truck bombings targeting the refinery defenses.
"Yes, they infiltrated some areas," one of the speakers said, referring to the Iraqi security forces. "But, God willing, either they will withdraw or they will be exterminated."
One resident of the town some 200 kilometers north of Baghdad said ISIS gunmen launched an attack on Monday night in the center of Baiji, advancing into the town's Asri district. There had also been fighting in the Naft and Kahraba neighborhoods.
Around the refinery, ISIS insurgents still held a housing complex on its western edge and were digging trenches in the Makhmour hills overlooking the installation from the north, despite coming under fire from helicopters, the resident said.
To the east, he said, insurgents could be seen crossing the nearby Tigris river by boat.
ISIS seized Baiji and surrounded the refinery during a June offensive when it swept south towards the capital Baghdad, capturing cities, farmlands and oilfields and meeting virtually no resistance from Iraq government forces.
Shiite militias and Kurdish Peshmerga, backed by U.S.-led air strikes since August, have helped contain the radical Sunni insurgents and pushed them back in some provinces. But they have continued to make gains in the western Sunni province of Anbar.
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