By NICOLE GAOUETTE, KADHIM AJRASH and ZAID SABAH
US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Iraqi leaders to
unite against an al-Qaeda breakaway group amid reports it
drove the army from a key oil refinery
and extended territorial
gains as far as the Jordanian border.
After almost two weeks of fighting for control of the refinery
at Baiji, north of
Baghdad, the Iraqi army withdrew from remaining positions
there late yesterday, local police said by phone. Its
now in the control of tribes fighting alongside the Islamic
State in Iraq and the Levant, Al-Arabiya
reported, citing Abu Abd al-Nuaimi, a spokesman for the
Government spokesman Ali al-Musawi and the Oil Ministry in
Baghdad couldnt immediately be reached for comment.
ISIL has consolidated its hold over swaths of Iraq,
OPECs second-biggest oil producer, since capturing
Mosul, the countrys biggest northern city, on June 10.
Kerrys visit to Baghdad yesterday added to US pressure
on Iraqi leaders, including Shiite premier Nouri al-Maliki,
to form a more inclusive government. Maliki has been accused
of sidelining Iraqs Sunni minority, prompting some of
them to side with ISIL.
Kerry, after meeting with Maliki and other ministers and
party leaders, told reporters that Iraq faces an
existential threat. He said US support will
be intense, sustained, and if Iraqs leaders take the
necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be
In addition to Baiji, the latest captures for the Sunni
insurgents include the Traibil crossing post with Jordan and
the Al-Waleed entry into Syria. Those are also in the hands
of ISILs tribal allies, Hameed Ahmed Hashim, a member
of the provincial council in the Iraqi province of Anbar near
the frontier, said by phone yesterday. He denied earlier
reports on state-run Iraqiya television that the positions
had been recaptured by the army.
Jordan sent tanks and troops to reinforce its border with
Iraq, Al Arabiya television said.
President Barack Obama told CBS television that the fighting
could spread to allies like Jordan as the
militants amass more arms, more resources,
according to a transcript.
Oil prices have risen on the turmoil in Iraq, with Brent
crude trading near a nine-month high. Brent for August
settlement pared gains yesterday, dropping 0.6% to
Baiji has been a target for the militants since their initial
surge two weeks ago, with conflicting reports of who
controlled it. Its Iraqs largest refinery
, with a capacity of
310,000 bpd. The facilitys shutdown amid the fighting
has caused shortfalls in Iraqs northern Kurdish region,
authorities there said yesterday.
The unrest in Iraq has raised fears of another sectarian
civil war similar to the one that engulfed the country in the
years after the 2003 US invasion, and the one raging now in
neighboring Syria, where ISIL rose to prominence fighting to
oust President Bashar al-Assad.
ISIL militants and their Sunni supporters now control
territory in Iraq from Mosul in the north to the Jordan
border in the west, and south toward the environs of Baghdad
-- areas that have largely Sunni populations.
Shiite politicians and religious leaders have called on
volunteers to take up arms. Thousands of armed Shiite
militiamen staged military-style parades on June 21 in cities
including Baghdad and Basra, Najaf and Kut in the south,
where Shiites make up most of the population, according to
footage on Al Arabiya television. Many of Iraqs Shiite
leaders, including Maliki, have received support from Iran,
the regions main Shiite power, which has said ISIL must
The conflict has also fueled concern that Iraq may fragment.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, whose northern region already
enjoys substantial autonomy and has escaped the recent
fighting, said the time has come for the Iraqi Kurds to
determine their future, in an interview with CNN.
The US is pressing Iraqs politicians, who are
negotiating a new coalition after April elections left no
party with a majority, to accelerate the process and form a
broad- based administration capable of rallying the
population against ISIL. The future of Iraq depends
primarily on the ability of Iraqs leaders to come
together and take a stand united against ISIL, Kerry
said in Baghdad.
Obama declined last week to say that he continues to have
confidence in Maliki, spurring speculation that the US may
seek to back another premier. Kerry said the US wont
choose a leader for Iraq or set conditions for who can join
its next government.
After the previous election in March 2010, it took about
eight months to form a coalition. Kerry said Maliki has
pledged to start the process of forming a government by July
The US invasion helped bring Iraqs Shiite majority to
power, alienating Sunnis who dominated the country during
Saddam Husseins era.
Clearly Kerry is carrying a message to Maliki to change
the system, said Theodore Karasik, director of research
at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in
Dubai. America and its allies want to see a change at
the top but this is going have to be acceptable to Iran
because Tehrans man in Baghdad is Maliki.
Crude oil shipments from southern Iraq, which holds 60% of
the nations reserves according to the US Energy
Information Administration, have been mostly unaffected by
the fighting. Kurds are defending the Kirkuk oilfield in the
north, where exports have been halted since March by attacks
on the pipeline. Iraq pumped 3.3 million bpd last month.
Obama has authorized the deployment of as many as 300 special
operations advisers to Iraq, while stressing that the burden
is on Iraqi leaders to resolve the crisis. The US withdrew
its last combat troops from Iraq three years ago.
Kerry said the forces are entering the country and taking up
their various assignments. He said Obama has
reserved the right to decide on further action such as air
strikes against ISIL.