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Iraqi Soldiers Overtake ISIS Control in Strategic Oil Town of Beiji

Iraqi Soldiers Overtake ISIS Control in Strategic Oil Town of Beiji

Iraqi Army soldiers work in a Russian-made multiple rocket launcher known as the TOS-1A during training at a military camp in Baghdad, October 14, 2014. The Iraqi army will deploy the weapon to the frontlines, the country's ministry of defense said. | (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)

Iraqi military officials said Tuesday that Iraqi forces have retaken control of the government headquarters and nearly three-quarters of the strategic oil town of Beiji, which is located about 155 miles north of Baghdad and houses Iraq's largest oil refinery.

However, it is unclear as to whether the Iraqi soldiers have yet retaken control of the the oil refinery, which was captured by ISIS militants over five months ago and lies on the outskirts of the town. The refinery accounts for nearly one-quarter of Iraq's oil and has the estimated capacity of producing 320,000 barrels of oil each day.

Al Jazeera reports that retaking control of the town will be key for Iraqi forces to establish a base to attack neighboring town of Tikrit, which was another town captured by ISIS fighters this past summer.

"They've taken most of the centre of the town and they are now pushing further into the north and the east where ISIS fighters have their base," Al Jazeera reporter Imran Khan, who is stationed in Baghdad, said.

Iraqi Army personnel take part during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Jurf al-Sakhar, October 27, 2014. | (Photo: Reuters/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud)

Iraqi state television quoted the head Iraqi commander in Beiji, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, saying that Iraqi forces have also recaptured the town's police and local government headquarters.

Al-Saadi's phone call with the state television was cut off right after he claimed that his forces were still facing "stiff resistance."

Government officials in the nation's capital of Baghdad have yet to comment on the reports of the town being recaptured. However, three unnamed Iraqi military officials told The Associated Press in a phone call that completely pushing the Islamic State from its control of the oil refinery is the "next objective" in eliminating ISIS from Beiji.

The officials also said that the progress of the Iraqi forces and Shiite militia in fully recapturing the town has been slowed because ISIS is setting up booby traps inside of houses and conducting ambush attacks. The officials also said that Iraqi forces have blocked access to Beiji from the nearby Anbar province, which ISIS has a heavy presence in. This measure will prevent the Islamic State from providing reinforcements to its forces in Beiji.

Raed Ibrahim, the governor of the Salahuddin province where Beiji is located, told AP that although ISIS' booby traps are causing additional problems, the Iraqi soldiers have been able to capture 75 percent of the town. However, ISIS fighters are still carrying out suicide attacks to limit Iraqi advances.

U.S. airstrikes helped the Iraqi forces recapture the town's center. The U.S. Central Command announced Monday that coalition aircraft had conducted seven airstrikes near Beiji since last Friday. The coalition airstrikes have destroyed three small military units, two ISIS vehicles, and a sniper post.

U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State have lead to 746 deaths of ISIS fighters since the airstrikes began in Septmeber, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday.

The observatory, which oversees the ISIS conflict, also said the airstrikes have killed 50 civilians, including eight children and five women.

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