Iraq crisis: Militant attack on Iraq’s biggest oil refinery 'repelled' as Isis forces close in on Baghdad

Attacks reported within an hour's drive of capital to north-east and west

The Iraqi military says it has repelled a Sunni militant attack on the country's biggest oil refinery north of Baghdad, as fears grow for some 100 foreign workers who are believed to have been abducted.

With the country descending into chaos and fresh reports of massacres in Baquba just to the north-east of Baghdad, the assault on the site at Baiji put added strain on oil supplies already being stockpiled by frightened civilians in the capital.

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) attacked the refinery late on Tuesday night from two directions, sending smoke billowing up from at least one warehouse building.

Reuters reported officials saying that at one point the militants occupied 75 per cent of the refinery, including the administration building and four watchtowers, before they were forced out on Wednesday morning.

The chief military spokesperson for the Iraqi army, Lt Gen Qassim al-Moussawi, said government forces had killed 40 Isis fighters when taking back the site, in a claim that could not be independently verified.

The plant at Baiji accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s capacity to refine oil, all of which goes towards domestic consumption for cooking oil petrol and fuelling power stations.

There are fears that foreign construction workers across northern Iraq are at risk of kidnap in the wake of the Isis advance. India's foreign ministry said 40 of its nationals appeared to been taken, while Turkey said its diplomats were investigating the reported kidnap of 60 foreigners, including some 15 Turks, near the oil city of Kirkuk.

Closer to the capital, government forces have launched a string of air strikes on the advancing militant lines. The Iraqi airforce’s capabilities are limited, however, and yesterday its ambassador to the US issued a desperate plea for the West to guarantee his country’s “air supremacy” in the conflict.

Government forces said on Tuesday that they had repelled an overnight attempt by insurgents to seize Baquba, the capital of Diyala and just a 60-minute drive from Baghdad. Some residents and officials said scores of prisoners from the local jail were killed. There were conflicting accounts of how they had died.

In the capital itself, people are on edge and a siege mentality has widely started to take hold. Sunnis worry about convoys of civilian cars with bearded men in military uniform they assume are militiamen, while Shia living in Sunni districts are moving away, worried that a new civil war is emerging along sectarian lines.

Yesterday two attacks hit Shia markets, from a suicide bomber and a car bomb, leaving 18 dead and 52 wounded according to medical and security sources.

The Sunni militants have moved at lightning speed, slicing through northern and central Iraq, capturing the towns of Hawija and Tikrit in the north before facing resistance in southern Salahaddin province, where there is a large Shia population.

More formalised battle lines are now appearing, with the insurgents held at bay at Baquba and just on the capital's outskirts beyond the airport to the west.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared in a national broadcast yesterday alongside some of his government’s most bitter Sunni critics and Kurdish leaders, in a joint appeal for unity and a demand for non-state forces to lay down their arms.

Read more:
Cameron: Iraq militants are planning attack on the UK
Fears grow that Baghdad could be engulfed in sectarian violence
Old enemies will confront common foe at arm’s length
Isis helping to thaw relations between the West and Iran

While the public address is unlikely to change much on the ground in Iraq, it could be a signal to strategic allies the US that Maliki is willing to listen to its concerns. President Barack Obama is considering options for an intervention to help push back Isis, but does not want to create further sectarian conflict.

The deteriorating security situation in Iraq has actually encourage improved relations between the US – and UK – and Iran, with both sides considering how to cooperate against the Isis advance.

And today the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would “not hesitate” to defend Shia holy sites in Iraq itself.

Speaking to a crowd on a visit to western Lorestan province, he said: “Regarding the holy Shia shines in Karbala, Najaf, Khadhimiya and Samarra, we announce to the killers and terrorists that the big Iranian nation will not hesitate to protect holy shrines.

“These terrorist groups, and those that fund them, both in the region and in the international arena, are nothing, and hopefully they will be put in their own place.”

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little