Iraqi forces defused booby traps and hunted down holdout jihadists in the strategic Baiji area Friday as part of their biggest advance against the Takfiri group, ISIL, in months.
Baiji lies at a crossroads between several frontlines and control of the area is seen as the key to progress in other regions, including Anbar province where forces were also closing in on ISIL strongholds.
Iraq’s army, police and counter-terrorism services, as well as thousands of fighters from the Popular Mobilization (Hashed al-Shaabi), continued to gain significant ground in and around Baiji, officers said.
“Iraqi forces are moving deep into Baiji, they have retaken the industrial area and several other neighborhoods,” an army colonel told AFP.
“We control about 60 percent of the city, there are not so many Daesh fighters left and they are trapped,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
After retaking most of the refinery to the north of the city, security forces were sweeping the sprawling complex for bombs and die-hard Takfiris.
“Inside the refinery, our forces are defusing booby traps and looking for the last Daesh terrorists we believe are still holed up in some buildings,” he said.
The refinery, which once produced 300,000 barrels per day of refined products meeting half of Iraq’s needs, is said to have been damaged beyond repair and to no longer be of huge strategic interest.
The same officer also said that Iraqi forces had completely surrounded Sinniya, a town west of Baiji on the road leading to Anbar.
“We are firing large numbers of rockets and missiles, while Iraqi warplanes are also striking. This will prepare the ground for an operation to cleanse Sinniya,” he said.