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IS Militants Said Driven From Iraqi Refinery Town

  • RFE/RL

Smoke rises from Iraq's Baiji oil refinery during clashes between Islamic State fighters and Iraqi forces in late July. (file photo)

Smoke rises from Iraq's Baiji oil refinery during clashes between Islamic State fighters and Iraqi forces in late July. (file photo)

Iraqi officials say government forces have dislodged Islamic State (IS) fighters from the city of Baiji, home to the country’s largest oil refinery.

Lieutenant General Abd al-Wahab al-Sa'adi told Iraqi state television on November 14 that the town, located some 200 kilometers north of Baghdad, had been "completely liberated."

Other officials were quoted as saying that Iraqi troops, backed by allied Sunni militiamen, had also broken through to the besieged refinery.

Baiji lies on a main highway that links the militant-controlled cities of Mosul to the north and Tikrit to the south.

IS fighters captured the three cities during their summer offensive across north and western Iraq.

The extremist group, which also seized large swaths of Syrian territory, has proclaimed a caliphate and imposed Shari'a law on lands under its control.

The Iraqi forces have since partially regrouped and gone on the offensive, backed by a U.S.-led aerial campaign.

On November 13, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress that a long, drawn-out military campaign against IS militants is just beginning and could expand to include modest numbers of U.S. military advisers deployed alongside Iraqi combat troops.

Army General Martin Dempsey made the remarks during an assessment he and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered to the House Armed Services Committee.

Dempsey said he was "not predicting at this point" he will recommend that U.S. forces accompany Iraqi troops in Mosul and along Iraq’s border with Syria, but he said, "We're certainly considering it."

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has previously said U.S. ground troops would not be deployed on combat missions in Iraq.

Obama is seeking congressional approval for $5.6 billion to double the size of the Iraq mission to more than 3,000 U.S. troops.

Also on November 13, IS militants released an audio recording of what the extremist group claims is its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, days after an air strike on jihadist leaders in Iraq generated rumors he had been wounded or killed.

In the 17-minute recording, a man purported to be Baghdadi made no direct reference to the November 8 strike but mentioned developments that have occurred since then.

The voice on the recording said IS fighters "will never leave the fighting, even if only one soldier remains."

He also said the U.S.-led military campaign against IS was failing and that the "caliphate" had expanded to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria.

Meanwhile, IS said it would start minting gold, silver, and copper coins and introduce its own currency, the dinar, for use in areas under its control in Syria and Iraq.

In a statement distributed on militant forums late on November 13, the group said the aim was to replace "the tyrannical currency system that was imposed on the Muslims."

Pictures of seven coins were posted.

"Islamic State" and "a caliphate following the model of the Prophet" are engraved on one side, as well as the weight and value of the coin.

Various symbols are used on the other side, including a world map, a crescent, and Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
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