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Iraq's Abadi Says Baiji Battle 'Crucial' To Ousting Islamic State

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the battle over the northern town of Baiji and its refinery -- Iraq's largest -- was critical in the fight to defeat Islamic State militants.

"Victory in this battle is critical to ending Daesh's presence in Iraq," Abadi said as he visited military commanders in Salahuddin Province late August 24. "Baiji has become a key front for the defense of Samarra, Salahuddin, and even Baghdad."

The town, 120 miles north of Baghdad, has been a battlefront since its seizure by the Islamists in June 2014 as they swept through much of northern Iraq.

Massive destruction has left it without residents, and the refinery is not operating.

If Iraqi security forces regain full control around Baiji, it could help them push north toward the IS-held city of Mosul and offset losses in the western province of Anbar.

A field commander told state television on August 25 that Iraqi forces, supported by militia fighters and U.S.-led coalition air strikes, had regained control of the western suburb of Tel Abu Jarad.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters