Battle Over Iraqi Oil Refinery Continues
by VOA News June 20, 2014
Iraqi troops continued battling Islamic militants over control of a major oil refinery Friday, amid news that the insurgents have seized a chemical weapons facility once owned by the late Saddam Hussein.
Since Tuesday, there has been intense fighting for control of the sprawling Beiji refinery, located about 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad. As of late Thursday, each side held a portion of the facility.
In another potentially disturbing development, the U.S. State Department said fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have wrested control of a chemical weapons facility that belonged to ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. 'remains concerned about the seizure of any site by the ISIL,' but said the complex likely does not contain chemical weapons of military value. She stressed it would be 'very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.'
Cleric's call to arms clarified
Meanwhile, Iraq's top Shiite cleric urged all Iraqis to unite against the ISIL-led Sunni jihadists overtaking swaths of the country, including most of one province and parts of three others.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said if the insurgents are not "fought and expelled from Iraq, everyone will regret it tomorrow, when regret has no meaning,' his spokesman said Friday in the shrine city of Karbala, according to the French news agency AFP.
In televised remarks, spokesman Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalai said the ayatollah's call last week for Iraqis to join the armed forces was meant to transcend sectarian and ethnic divisions and "was for all citizens, without specifying a religion."
'The goal was to get ready to face the takfiri group called ISIL, which now has the upper hand... in what is happening in many provinces,' al-Karbalai said, using an Arabic word roughly translated as extremist, AFP reported.
The ayatollah's call for volunteers bolstered the ranks of the struggling Iraqi army as it battles the Sunni militants -- including some fighters loyal to Hussein.
US to send 300 advisers
U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday he is prepared to send more equipment and up to 300 U.S. advisers to help Iraq fight against the militants that have already taken over much of the country's northern region.
Speaking from the White House, Obama ruled out sending U.S. ground forces back into Iraq after withdrawing combat troops in 2011 following eight years of fighting. But he said is ready to take what he calls 'targeted' military action as necessary, leaving the door open for possible airstrikes against Sunni militants.
Kerry heads to Middle East
Obama is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East and Europe this weekend for talks with U.S. allies.
Kerry called ISIL a threat to everyone in the region, saying there's no single military answer to the Iraqi crisis. He said forming a new unity government as rapidly as possible will be the greatest single step toward quelling the violence and finding a solution.
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