Sunni Muslim militants launched a massive attack on Iraq’s largest oil refinery late Tuesday, but were fought off by Iraqi security forces after an overnight battle, Iraqi officials said.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) shot off mortar rounds into the Beiji refinery, located about 155 miles north of Baghdad. There were unconfirmed reports that the militants had managed to gain control of much of the refinery compound, but the Iraqi Special Operations, which is part of Iraq’s Interior Ministry force, vehemently denied the claims, CBS’s Washington affiliate reported.
The agency said Iraqi special forces destroyed an ISIL convoy and gunned down three ISIL snipers during the battle.
Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, chief military spokesman, later said government forces had repelled the attack and that 40 attackers were killed in fighting, CBS reported.
“We were able to contain the strike and arrest deterioration,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday. “We have now started our counteroffensive, regaining the initiative and striking back.”
ISIL captured a vast swath of northern Iraq last week, including second-largest city Mosul and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, facing little opposition in the largely Sunni areas.