• Isis launched a major offensive against Baiji city on 13 August
  • Baiji city lies 8 kilometres from the Baiji refinery compound
  • Security sources say Isis is unlikely to be able to secure the refinery in the near future

The jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) has gained ground in the Iraqi city of Baiji, ramping up fears the group could retake the nearby Baiji refinery.

Isis launched a major offensive against Baiji city, which lies 8 kilometres away from the Baiji refinery compound, on 13 August, and is thought to have taken control of some peripheral territories in the city.

Baiji is Iraq’s biggest refinery and was producing 75,000 barrels a day (b/d) of oil before it was captured by Isis in June 2014.

The refinery was subsequently recaptured by the Iraqi military later that month after fierce fighting.

The latest assault on Baiji city by Isis involved about 200 fighters from the group as well as between seven and 10 suicide car bombs, according to a security source operating in Iraq.

“Isis is taking advantage of its greater agility to strike the government where it is weak,” says the source.

The Iraqi government is currently focusing its military efforts in an ongoing attempt to take back the city of Ramadi, which lies about 129 kilometres west of Baghdad and fell to Isis in May this year.

About 10,000 Iraqi troops and militiamen are taking part in the operation to encircle Ramadi before a final offensive.

“The reason behind the attack on Baiji, as well as other recent attacks on targets that include the city of Fallujah, is probably to force the Iraqi government to divert resources away from the Ramadi operation,” says the source.

“Isis knows its fighters are more mobile than Bagdad’s forces and it is trying to capitalise on this.”

However, Isis is unlikely to regain control of Iraq’s biggest refinery in the near future, according to the source.

“Although there have been gains made by Isis in the surrounding area over recent weeks, it is unlikely [the group] will be able to take control of the refinery, which is currently well defended,” he says.

Significant damage has been done to the refinery during battles between Isis forces and fighters loyal to Baghdad.

This damage, and the ongoing security problems in the area, make it unlikely that the government will be able to bring the refinery back online in the near future.

“The strategic value of taking control of the refinery has diminished due to the fact it is no longer operational, but losing control of the refinery compound would be a major symbolic blow for the Iraqi government,” says the source.

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