Claims of “victories” in Salaheddin Province, particularly surrounding the city of Samarra, have been pushed by Iraqi officials as an effort to suggest al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been stalled in its advance.
Yet reports that the nation’s largest oil refinery, the Baiji facility, has fallen today to AQI undercuts those claims. Baiji is just outside of Samarra, and the town is now fully under AQI control.
Interestingly, the refinery hasn’t shut down, but is reportedly still operational and being run on orders from AQI, giving them a huge refining capacity for their growing Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Indeed, while the Maliki government tries to portray its defenses as strengthening, it seems that it is only the Shi’ite militias raised in a call to arms by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani that are doing much in the way of defending the towns north of Baghdad, and the chances of a quick reversal of AQI’s gains seems unlikely.
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