Iraqi pro-government forces, including the Shiite Muslim Al-Abbas popular mobilisation unit, take part in an operation to retake the Baiji oil refinery from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on April 15, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED SAWAF
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ISIS militants have dug trenches around natural gas and hydrogen tanks at Iraq's largest refinery, raising the stakes in a battle where the price of victory may be the refinery itself.The Pentagon last week said the outcome of the battle – in which Iraqi security forces backed by coalition warplanes are fighting to retake the refinery from ISIS militants – could not be predicted but warned it was going in "the wrong direction".The battle for Beiji, however, could have the effect of delaying the much anticipated operation to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS.Government forces started a military operation last week from the west, but encountered strong resistance from ISIS snipers and roadside bombs. Meanwhile federal police, army and a small contingent of Shiite paramilitaries are trying to advance into the town of Beiji south of the refinery, but have not managed to reach the center.The mayor of Beiji said the government forces were no match for the resources ISIS had committed to the battle. The head of the Salahuddin Operations Command was recently replaced – a move one source within the command said had further weakened the chain of command.
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