ISIS-Led Militants Take Over Iraq's Biggest Oil RefineryWorld | June 18, 2014, Wednesday // 12:57| views
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has openly accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the ISIS militants operating in his country. Photo by EPA/BGNES
Islamist insurgents invaded the Baiji oil refinery, the biggest such facility in Iraq, as they are pushing toward the capital Baghdad after having seized a number of cities.
Some 75 percent of Baiji, located 210 km north of Bagdad, is now under the control of militants led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), as the BBC reports citing officials.
Foreign staff has been evacuated from the refinery which provides over a fourth of the country's entire capacity.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shia-dominated government has tried to push rebels back with air strikes, but rebels are determined to continue their offensive.
Hundreds have died since ISIS began capturing Iraqi towns and cities last week, including second-largest city Mosul and Saddam Hussein's hometown Tirkit.
As the conflict deepens, Iran has also shown it could intervene, with President Hassan Rouhani warning his government would not hesitate to defend Shia shrines located on Iraqi territory from "great powers, their mercenaries, murderers and terrorists," as German weekly Der Spiegel quoted him as saying.
A number of Shiite tombs are located in Baghdad, Samarra, Karbala and other towns and cities, and ISIS has vowed to demolish them.
Such threats could also incite Iraqi Shiites to take arms and defend holy venues. Many fear this could make the conflict descend into full-scale sectarian war.
Saudi Arabia has also publicly expressed its stance on the fighting in Iraq, with Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal saying Iraq was facing a risk of civil war.
Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki, however, has openly accused Ryadh of supporting the Sunni militants.
ISIS has altogether about 10 000 fighters in Iraq and Syria and controls strips of territories in both countries which it aims to unite into an Islamist enclave.