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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Top General Arrives in Baghdad to See U.S. Contribution in Fight Against ISIS......

BAGHDAD — The top United States military officer arrived here Saturday on his first visit since the beginning of the American-led military campaign against the extremists who call themselves the Islamic State.
The Iraqi government and allied militia leaders said separately that they had recaptured control of a major refinery under siege for months by the Islamic State fighters, the most significant advance in several weeks of fighting to drive out the group.
The officer, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived as Washington was ramping up its role in the fight. A week ago, President Obama authorized the doubling of the number of American military advisers on the ground here to 3,000. General Dempsey told a congressional committee on Thursday that he would consider recommending further increases in the number of American troops — though he said any additional increase would be modest and not a move “to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent.
General Dempsey, whose trip was not announced in advance, told Reuters in an interview before landing that he wanted “to get a sense from our side about how our contribution is going.”
“I want to hear from those actually doing the lifting that they have the resources they need and the proper guidance to use those resources,” he said, adding, “This will work best if we’re enabling” a plan by the Iraqi government itself.
United States forces invaded Iraq in 2003, fully departed in 2011 and began bombing again in August in an attempt to halt the march of the Sunni Muslim extremists of the Islamic State. Beginning from a base in an area of Syria captured in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, the extremists stormed across northwest Iraq to within a few miles of Baghdad last spring, with the Iraqi military forces crumbling before them until an American-led campaign of airstrikes began.
The Islamic State fighters have scored few big gains since the Western campaign began, but the Iraqi government forces have also made few big advances. Some Western officials, though, say the American-led airstrikes are helping the government forces make progress, as in the reported recapture on Saturday of the refinery at Baiji, about 130 miles north of Baghdad.
It is Iraq’s largest refinery but it has been severely damaged in the battle and will require extensive repairs before it reopens. Iraqi military forces and Shiite militias, which are allied with the Iraqi government and supported by Iran, have been fighting since June to break the extremist group’s siege of the refinery. The Iraqi government has repeatedly — though always prematurely — proclaimed Baiji’s imminent recapture, leading to skepticism about the reports.
But on Saturday a local government official in Baiji and a spokesman for a government-allied militia involved in the fighting both said that their troops had finally broken the siege of the refinery. Both said the pro-government forces were still fighting to control the district around the refinery, where the Islamic State fighters have planted many explosives.
Naim el-Aboudi, the spokesman for the militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, said the explosives were the main factor slowing the advance. “In the next few hours we are going to announce the liberation of Baiji completely,” he said on Saturday afternoon.