SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Iraqi forces drove ISIL fighters out of the strategic oil refinery town of Beiji on Friday, handing a major defeat to the armed group, which a U.N. panel said has denied food and medicine to hundreds of thousands of people and hides among civilians since the start of a U.S.-led air campaign.
The recapture of Beiji is the latest in a series of setbacks for he Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has lost hundreds of fighters to airstrikes in a stalled advance on the Syrian town of Kobane.
Two Iraqi security officials said government forces backed by allied militiamen captured the town of Beiji and lifted a months-long Islamic State siege on the refinery itself — Iraq’s largest — hoisting the country’s red, white and black flags atop the sprawling complex.
Reached by telephone in Beiji, they said the army used loudspeakers to warn the small number of residents still holed up in the town to stay indoors while bomb squads cleared booby-trapped houses and detonated roadside bombs.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
ISIL fighters seized Beiji and surrounded the sprawling refinery in June, during a lightning campaign through northern Iraq. The armed group also controls territory in neighboring Syria and has proclaimed its own nation, straddling both countries. On Friday, ISIL reportedly announced its own currency, a move designed to bolster the legitimacy of its proclaimed state.
This month, U.S. airstrikes targeted a rebel group fighting against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that is not affiliated with ISIL, signaling a widening of a campaign originally aimed at destroying just ISIL. Critics of the war have said it is indirectly aiding Assad, and have been infuriated by Western willingness to attack other groups the anti-Assad rebels view as allies, while not striking Syrian government targets.
Meanwhile, a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in Syria said Friday that ISIL has subjected Syrians as well as Iraqis to a “rule of terror,”
The U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, a four-member panel of independent experts, conducted more than 300 interviews related to ISIL’s offensive and collected video and photographic evidence. ISIL, the U.N. inquiry reported Friday, has obstructed the flow of medicine, doctors and nurses into Hassakeh province. The panel also said ISIL has “become synonymous with extreme violence directed against civilians and captured fighters.”