October 14, 2015 / 10:22 AM / 4 years ago

Iraqi army, militia forces launch assault to retake Baiji from Islamic State

Tanks belonging to the Iraqi Army are seen on the outskirts of Baiji September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi army and volunteer militia fighters, who are mostly Shi’ite, launched an assault on Wednesday to retake the city of Baiji in northern Iraq from Islamic State militants, an Iraqi military spokesman said.

Baiji is near the country’s largest oil refinery and is only 150 km (90 miles) away from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city which fell to the hardline Sunni militants of Islamic State in June 2014.

The city has since changed hands several times in fierce clashes.

The Hashid Shaabi militiamen and Iraqi army soldiers began their assault from the south on Wednesday and managed to fight their way into the center of the city, military spokesman Colonel Mohammed al-Asadi said.

The force was backed up by air strikes from the U.S. and Iraqi airforce, Asadi said.

An officer at the regional military command center told Reuters in July that crude oil storage tanks and pipelines at the refinery had been damaged beyond repair, while natural gas tanks and processing facilities, as well as the power station providing electricity to the refinery, had suffered damage.

It was not immediately clear whether the fighting on Wednesday against Islamic State, which holds swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria, had further damaged the refinery.

Reporting By Saif Hameed, Writing by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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