Iraqi forces retake Baiji oil refinery, encircle Ramadi
The Iraqi government says its forces have driven out Islamic State group militants from a key oil refinery north of Baghdad and have encircled Ramadi in a wide-scale military operation.
The Joint Military Command said Friday that government troops and paramilitary forces, made up mainly of Shia militias, retook Baiji refinery and nearby Sinniya town.
It did not provide additional details on the operation at the sprawling refinery. There was also no word on the fate of the nearby town of Baiji.
Baiji, some 250 kilometres [155 miles] north of Baghdad, fell to IS during its blitz across northern Iraq a year ago, but the refinery facility remained contested.
The town is strategically significant as it lies on the road to IS-held Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.
Controlling Baiji is seen as the key to progress in other regions, including Anbar province where forces were also closing in on IS strongholds.
The refinery, which once produced 300,000 barrels per day of refined products meeting half of Iraq's needs, is said to have been damaged beyond repair and to no longer be of huge strategic interest.
At least six anti-IS fighters were killed at the refinery Thursday, several officers said.
The bodies of at least 15 IS fighters were also found there and large numbers of wounded extremists are reported to have been evacuated to the nearby IS strongholds of Hawijah and Sharqat.
Around Ramadi, which IS seized in mid-May, Iraqi forces pressed an offensive to retake it, with air support from the coalition.
According to daily tallies provided by the US military, coalition warplanes have carried out at least 69 strikes against IS in the Ramadi area this month alone.
Major ground advances in recent days have allowed pro-government forces to almost completely encircle Ramadi, where the coalition estimates the number of remaining IS fighters to be between 600 and 1,000.