Iraqi forces fought fierce battles against armed rebels around the country’s biggest oil refinery at Baiji, 200 km north of the capital, shutting down the facility and stoking fears of a disruption in national energy supplies.
State TV reported that Iraqi forces backed by airplanes on Friday repelled four attacks on the Baiji refinery by rebels from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
A local source in Baiji told Al Jazeera that the rebels withdrew after heavy clashes and that the refinery remained closed.
The town of Baiji is already in rebel hands.
At least 36 soldiers were killed in clashes elsewhere in the country during the day. They included 16 soldiers killed in Anbar province after their convoy came under attack.
The latest fighting came as Iraq’s most respected Shiite cleric called on Shiite and Sunni Muslims to rally behind the authorities to prevent the ISIL from destroying the country.
In a speech read by an aide, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani pleaded for stability and for Iraqis to stop their country from falling into the abyss.
He urged Muslims to stand together against ISIL and called on the country’s politicians to soon convene the newly-elected parliament so the process of forming the government could begin.
Grand Ayatollah Sistani reiterated a call made a week ago on civilians to volunteer and fight against the ISIL.
He described his message as a call to arms for all Iraqis, not just his sect. “If fighting and dislodging them is not done today, all will feel sorry tomorrow,” the prominent cleric said.
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