A member of Kurdish Peshmerga forces loads a missile launcher during clashes with militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria in Jalawla in the Diyala province, on June 14, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/RICK FINDLER)
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Iran's president vowed Wednesday to defend Shiite holy sites in Iraq, where Sunni militants battled their way into the biggest oil refinery in what is rapidly turning into a sectarian war across the frontiers of the Middle East.Sunni fighters were in control of three quarters of the territory of the Baiji refinery north of Baghdad, an official said there, after a morning of heavy fighting at gates defended by elite troops under siege for a week. Extra-legal Shiite militia -- many believed to be funded and backed by Iran -- have mobilised to halt the Sunni advance, as Baghdad's million-strong army, built by the United States at a cost of $25 billion, crumbles.Overt participation by Iran, the Middle East's main Shiite power which fought a war that killed a million people against Iraq in the 1980s, would transform the fight into a conflict spanning the frontiers of the region. Iraqi government forces are holding out against Sunni fighters in the city of Samarra north of Baghdad, site of one of the most important Shiite shrines.
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