In a key battle for Iraqi forces against ISIL militants, there is still a long way to go.
Iraqi soldiers backed by Shi’ite militia fighters have recaptured most of the strategically important Baiji oil refinery, say security officials.
The country’s largest, some 200 kilometres north of Baghdad, it has changed hands several times since the Sunni Islamist fighters swept through northern Iraq last year.
Fully retaking the city of Baiji is now crucial.
Reports suggest that government forces may already control up to 60 percent but they are facing ISIL snipers, suicide bombers and roadside explosives.
Yet backed by US-led air strikes, they are persevering because the main route through Baiji will be key to sending troops and supplies in any attempt to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the biggest prize in the war against the jihadists.
The group calling itself Islamic State now controls one-third of the territory of Iraq but its fighters suffered a major defeat in April when Iraqi troops and Shi’ite paramilitaries routed them from the city of Tikrit.
The insurgents struck back with gains in Baiji and the western province of Anbar, the other major battleground in the campaign against Islamic State.
So far US-led air strikes on the militants have failed to turn the tide in Iraq’s conflict, which has sapped the oil producing country’s finances and fuelled sectarian bloodletting.
And as the fighting rages on, civilians continue to suffer.
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