Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Sunni rebels in Iraq say they have fully captured the country's main oil refinery at Baiji, north of Baghdad. The refinery had been under siege for 10 days with the militant offensive being repulsed several times. The complex supplies a third of Iraq's refined fuel and the battle has already led to petrol rationing. Insurgents, led by the al-Qaeda-linked group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), have overrun a swathe of territory north and west of Baghdad including Iraq's second-biggest city, Mosul.
They are bearing down on a vital dam near Haditha and have captured all border crossings to Syria and Jordan. A rebel spokesman said the Baiji refinery, in Salahuddin province, would now be handed over to local tribes to administer. The refinery is essential if the rebels are to keep control of the areas they have conquered and to supply Mosul with energy. The spokesman said that the advance towards Baghdad would continue.
Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry vowed "intense and sustained support" for Iraq after meeting key politicians in the capital, Baghdad. US Secretary of State John Kerry: "The support will be intense, sustained" He said attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) were a threat to Iraq's existence, and the next days and weeks would be critical. Mr Kerry met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and also held talks with key Shia and Sunni figures. Speaking at the US embassy, he said US support would "allow Iraqi security forces to confront [Isis] more effectively and in a way that respects Iraq's sovereignty". "The support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq's leaders take the steps needed to bring the country together it will be effective," he said.
He says Mr Maliki is expected to be replaced as prime minister by one of three other figures when parliament meets on 1 July. Mr Maliki, a member of Iraq's Shia Muslim majority, has been criticised for concentrating power among his mostly Shia allies and excluding other groups including Sunni and Kurdish communities.
Meanwhile Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani gave his strongest-ever indication on Monday that his region would seek formal independence from the rest of Iraq. "Iraq is obviously falling apart," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview. "And it's obvious that the federal or central government has lost control over everything. Everything is collapsing -- the army, the troops, the police. The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold."