Iraq requests US airstrikes on insurgents as ISIS fighters hit oil refinery

As Sunni militants belonging to the ISIS pushed hard to take control of the country`s biggest oil refinery in the town of Baii, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged the people to unite against the insurgents.

Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha

Baghdad: As Iraq seems to be heading towards a deeper insurgency crisis, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Wednesday requested the US to carry out airstrikes to thwart the lightning offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Sunni militants.

"Iraq has officially asked Washington to help under the security agreement (between the two countries), and to conduct air strikes against terrorist groups," the AFP quoted Zebari as telling reporters in Saudi Arabia.

The US confirmed that it had received a request for launching airstrikes from Iraq.

"We have a request from the Iraqi government for air power," confirmed top US military commander Gen Martin Dempsey, according to the BBC.

Earlier, in an interview to Yahoo News, US Secretary of State John Kerry had not ruled out carrying drone strikes on militants.

But the US is still weighing options on how to tackle the crisis in Iraq and Obama is to meet Congressional leaders over the same today.

The US has meanwhile sent 275 non-combatant troops to Iraq to protect its embassy staff there. However, soon a special forces contingent also may be sent there to train Iraqi soldiers, reports have said.

The request for US airstrikes comes as ISIS fighters launched mortar attacks on Iraq`s biggest oil refinery in the town of Baiji, and reportedly also abducted over 100 foreign workers.

The Army however later claimed that it repelled the attack by insurgents and was still in control of the refinery despite a Reuters report that said 75% of the refinery had been invaded by the ISIS militants.

Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged the people to unite against the insurgents and appealed the volunteers to battle against the militants to drive them away.

"We will face terrorism and bring down the conspiracy," the PM pledged on adding that "not every setback is a defeat".

"What happened in Mosul was a setback, but not a defeat".

Referring to Saudi Arabia, Maliki accused “outside forces” of stoking the insurgency and warned other nations in the region that even their countries would not remain untouched by the dangerous ISIS militancy.

"We will face terrorism and we will bring down the conspiracy. But be sure they will flee to you and your countries will also be burned by sectarian wars," said Maliki.

Maliki`s office had yesterday issued a statement condemning Saudi Arabia for fomenting the crisis in Iraq by having funded the terrorists.

In a news conference, Iraqi military spokesman General Qasem Atta said that Iraqi forces killed 40 ISIS militants and that the situation in Tal Afar, Samarra, and Baiji was under control.

However, the military is not yet in full control of the strategic town of Tal Afar and Maliki`s security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta assured that the Shiite town will be restored to Army`s control by Thursday morning.

Sunni rebels had taken control of Tal Afar on Monday morning. Tal Afar is of strategic importance for militants as it lies along a strategic corridor to Syria.

Lt Gen Atta added that once the Army takes control of Tal Afar, it will then aim for the town of Mosul, which is under ISIS control.

Danger is looming large on Iraq`s capital town as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) fighters are pushing hard to take control of Baquba, just 60 km from Baghdad, attacking a jail there, killing 44 prisoners. 

Reports said that though Sunni militants were fighting hard to take Baquba, Iraqi military said the city was still in its control. 

Several civilians too have taken up arms against the ISIS on the call of Grand Shiite cleric Ayatollah al-Sistani, who urged people to defend Baghdad. 

If rebels manage to take control of Baquba - capital of Diyala province- which is just 37 miles away from Baghdad, then the capital city faces an open risk of falling in the jaws of danger as Sunni militants will have an easy access to Baghdad after having captured Baquba. 

However, the capital city has turned into a fortress with forces along with thousands of civilians taking up arms to save their town. 

The ISIS militants who took over Mosul and Tikrit last week were seen advancing with a lighting speed as they approach Baghdad. In the beginning Iraqi troops fled Mosul, discarding weapons and uniforms, but Iraqi security forces took time and gained ground and on Sunday claimed to have halted the Sunni rebels` advance by taking back many cities. 

Thousand of Iraqis responded to Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki`s announcement regarding arming the volunteers and even children and old people were seen brandishing rifles on streets of Baghdad. 

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