December 22, 2014
Insurgents close in on Iraq's biggest oil, seize Turkish consulate
Sunni insurgents from an al Qaeda splinter group closed in on Iraq's biggest oil refinery today after seizing the northern city of Mosul in a devastating show of strength against the Shi'ite-led government and seized the Turkish consulate.
Security sources said militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - Sunni militants waging sectarian war on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier - drove into the town of Baiji yesterday in armed vehicles, torching the court house and police station after freeing prisoners.
The militants offered safe passage to some 250 men guarding the refinery on the outskirts of Baiji on condition they leave.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called on his country's leaders to come together to face "the serious, mortal" threat. "The response has to be soon. There has to be a quick response to what has happened," he said during a trip to Greece.
Zebari said Baghdad would work with forces from the nearby Kurdish autonomous region to drive the fighters from Mosul. Baiji resident Jasim al-Qaisi said the militants had also asked senior tribal chiefs in Baiji to persuade local police and soldiers not to resist their takeover.
The Baiji refinery can process 300,000 barrels per day and supplies oil products to most of Iraq's provinces and is a major provider of power to Baghdad.
The push into Baiji began hours after ISIL overran Mosul, one of the great Sunni historic cities, advancing their aim of creating a Sunni Caliphate.
ISIL militants also seized the Turkish consulate in Mosul and efforts are under way to ensure the safety of diplomatic staff, two Turkish government said.
Militants seized 48 Turks, including the consul-general, three children and several members of Turkey's special forces. The group was taken from the consulate building to a militant base. Turkish authorities confirmed that all of them are unharmed.
"Certain militant groups in Mosul have been directly contacted to ensure the safety of diplomatic staff," a Turkish government source said.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan held an emergency meeting with the Undersecretary of Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MIT) and Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay to discuss the developments, Turkish media reported.