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Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki on ISIS Crisis: We Have Started Our Counteroffensive

"We were able to contain the strike and arrest deterioration," Maliki said. Meanwhile, ISIS-led gunmen attacked Iraq's biggest oil refinery.

by John Beck
Jun 18 2014, 5:09pm

Photo via AP

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki insisted today that government forces had halted the advance of hardline Sunni militants across the country.

The militant force, which is led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized huge swathes of Northern Iraq last week and had been advancing toward the capital.

"We were able to contain the strike and arrest deterioration," Maliki said in a televised statement, according to the Associated Press. "We have now started our counteroffensive, regaining the initiative and striking back."

Maliki also used the speech to urge tribal leaders to turn on the militants and dismissed the militants themselves as a symptom of foreign interference in Iraq.

"I call upon the tribes to renounce those who are killers and criminals who represent foreign agendas," Reuters reported.

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His statement came as ISIS-led gunmen attacked Iraq's biggest oil refinery, in Baiji, north of Baghdad.

According to local news reports citing Salah al-Din police forces, the Iraqi air-force conducted strike on militants around Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji on June 18. Credit: YouTube/iraqi spring

ISIS now controls three quarters of the territory in and around the refinery after heavy clashes, according to an official speaking from inside the facility quoted by Reuters.

"The militants have managed to break into the refinery. Now they are in control of the production units, administration building and four watchtowers. This is 75 percent of the refinery," the official said.

A senior army spokesperson had previously said that government forces had fought off the attack.

Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said in a televised announcement that 40 militants were killed, according to the AP.

Elsewhere in the country, government forces renewed air strikes on militant positions in Anbar, although militants say they have gained ground there, according to the BBC.

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Government forces also reported having retaken the citadel in the city of Tal Afar, which was overrun by militants on Monday.

As the security situation remains in a state of flux, the possibility of Iranian intervention in the crisis increased.

The country's President Hassan Rouhani made it clear in a televised address that Iranian forces would mobilize to protect Shiite shrines in Iraq, which have been targeted by ISIS.

"Regarding the holy Shi'a shrines in Karbala, Najaf, Kadhimiya and Samarra, we announce to the killers and terrorists that the great Iranian nation will not hesitate to protect holy shrines," he said.

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Iran is the major Shiite power in the Middle East. From 1980 to 1988, it was involved in a war against Iraq in which a million died.

The US, which, had been considering intervention of its own has ruled out the possibility of air strikes on militant positions for now, on the grounds that it does not have enough information on where to direct them.

Also today, the Indian Foreign Ministry said that 40 civilian construction workers had been kidnapped in Iraq and in Ankara, Turkish officials said it was looking into claims that 60 foreign construction workers including 15 Turks, had been seized near Kirkuk.

The 60 had been building a hospital, according to local media.