Friday, June 20, 2014

Iraq Updates June 20 , 2015 --Obama Prepares for Drone War in Iraq.............As Prime Minister Maliki struggles to maintain primacy in Iraq , state of play of various Iraq area set forth ( and rivals position themselves as his successor ) , Food prices spike in Baghdad ...... Kurds denounce attempt by Shiites to blame them for Iraq's troubles ( meanwhile the Kurds continue to defy the Baghdad Government by selling their oil outside of the Government directives , note the troubles with gasoline supplies in Kurd territory ) ...

Obama Prepares for Drone War in Iraq

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By Juan Cole
President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he will send 300 Green Beret Army special operations soldiers to Iraq. They will be detailed to Iraqi National Army Headquarters and brigade HQs and their primary task will apparently be intelligence-gathering and helping with the Iraqi National Army response to the advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL). Likely the intelligence-gathering in turn is intended to allow the deployment in Iraq of American drones. At the moment, the US has no good intelligence on the basis of which to fly the drones.
Obama underlined that no combat troops will be sent to Iraq.
These steps are in part obviously a political response to the Republican War Chorus that has blamed him for doing nothing (they can’t any longer say ‘nothing’) about the Iraq crisis. To the extent the moves are political, they are frankly craven. Obama should just have said no. If he needed covert intelligence, that is what the CIA and the NSA are for. (By the way, if the NSA surveillance program was really doing its job, how come northern and western Iraq could take Washington by surprise by seceding from the country in favor of a would-be al-Qaeda affiliate? Maybe they should be paying less attention to guys in Texas selling dime bags and more to like, actual al-Qaeda?)
To the extent that Obama is likely paving the way to US drone strikes on ISIS in Iraq, he is mysteriously failing to take his own advice. He has already admitted that the Iraq crisis is political and not military, and said that there are no military solutions. The Sunni Iraqis of Mosul, Tikrit and other towns of the west and north of the country have risen up and thrown off the government and the army of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The uprising was coordinated with ISIS, but was made up of many groups and to some extent was the spontaneous act of townspeople. Droning some ISIS commanders to death isn’t going to change the situation in Mosul, a city of 2 million that is done out with the Maliki government.
For Obama to associate himself with an attempt to crush this uprising in favor the the highly sectarian ruling Da’wa Party (Shiite ‘Call’ or ‘Mission’), which is allied with Iran is most unwise. If it had to be done, it should have been done as a covert operation and never spoken of publicly.
Ominously, the administration is even talking about a sort of aerial hot pursuit, of droning ISIS in Syria. Obama is not old enough to remember the ways that ‘advisers’ in Vietnam turned into armies and hot pursuit into and bombing of Cambodia laid the ground for genocide. I am.
Meanwhile, the ISIS takeover of Sunni Iraq provoked comment from key players in the Middle East. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal responded forcefully to al-Maliki’s charge that Saudi Arabia is behind ISIS and all the violence it is committing in Iraq, intimating that the real problem is the sectarian way al-Maliki is governing the country. (That is rich, given that few countries in the world are governed in a more sectarian way than Saudi Arabia). Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari criticized Saudi Arabia for not issuing a condemnation of the massacres committed by ISIS. Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan warned against US air strikes that would kill large numbers of innocents. Muslim televangelist Yusuf al-Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood, based in Qatar, defended the revolt of the Sunnis of northern and western Iraq. Usually al-Qaradawi condemns al-Qaeda. Iraqi Sunni speaker of the parliament, Usama Nujayfi, said that the aid being received by the Iraqi army should not be turned into a political football.
Likely that aid will eventually include drones. Obama says he believes the drone program produces few civilian casualties, but in Pakistan they appear to be 15% or so of deaths. Pictures in the Iraqi press of women and children droned to death are a propaganda bonanza for al-Qaeda.
In the end, of course, Obama is doing very little about a situation regarding which very little can, practically speaking, be done. And as Will Rogers would have said, that is what the American people elected him to do.

Iraq Update: Fighting Continues, Battle For Refinery, PM On The Rocks

Tyler Durden's picture

Here are all the latest news and updates from the rapidly-changing situation in Iraq, courtesy of Bloomberg.

  • Iraqi govt troops retain control of 310k b/d Baiji refinery, but facility surrounded by territory held by ISIL-led militants
  • Aerial photos yday showed some storage tanks on fire
  • Fierce battles near Baiji and Tal Afar airport: BBC
  • Fighting continues around Tal Afar, halfway between Mosul and Syrian border
  • Clashes reported between ISIL and Kurds south of Kirkuk
  • U.S. to send 300 military advisors to Baghdad; lack sufficient intelligence for imminent air strikes: Gen. Dempsey
  • Saudi Arabia warns against outside intervention in Iraq, blames “exclusionary policies” of Iraqi cabinet: Saudi ambassador writes in Telegraph
  • ISIL hands over captured foreign workers to police

  • Obama declines to endorse Maliki, but stops short of calling for him to step down
  • Challengers emerging to replace Iraq PM: NYT

  • Current output from Iraq’s northern fields cut to 30k b/d; supplying Kirkuk refinery
  • Northern fields were producing ~650-700k b/d before March 2 closure of export pipeline to Turkey

  • Exports from Iraq’s northern fields cut since March 2 when the Iraq-Turkey pipeline was bombed
  • Exports of Kirkuk crude from Turkish port of Ceyhan fell to 24k b/d in March, zero in April: Oil Ministry
  • NOTE: Iraq still exports crude from southern fields via Persian Gulf
  • Kurdish forces have taken control of Kirkuk oil field and city after central govt forces fled
  • Kurds fighting ISIL forces at Bayshir, south of Kirkuk
  • Ashti Hawrami, Kurdish Regional Govt’s natural resources minister, offered to export Kirkuk via Kurdish pipelines, but was rebuffed
  • Kurds to boost exports to 200k-250k b/d in July from 125k b/d now; targeting 400k b/d by end-2014

  • Sprawling complex of storage tanks, processing units
  • Primary source of products for N Iraq; also supplies Baghdad
  • Linked power plant provides electricity to region
  • Represents ~40% of Iraq’s refining capacity; processes      crude delivered by pipeline and rail from Kirkuk, Ajeel (formerly Saddam) and other fields operated by North Oil Co.
  • Lies on Iraq-Ceyhan pipeline; important source of fuel for both govt and ISIL
  • Storage tanks full: Iraq Oil Ministry
  • Capture would provide immediate source of fuel for insurgents’ vehicles and for sale in N Iraq.

  • Production in south unaffected by fighting so far
  • Iraq plans to ship 2.79m b/d from Basrah Oil Terminal in July; most since before 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War
  • BP, Exxon, CNPC and Petronas started to evacuate non- Iraqi staff from nation
  • Shell ’monitoring the situation very carefully’: Andy Brown, head of Shell Upstream International
  • Lukoil has increased security at West Qurna field, where it started production in March
  • Southern oil facilities not beyond ISIL’s reach: Barclays

  • Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is also known as Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)
  • A Sunni jihadist group led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
  • Broke away from al-Qaeda in 2013
  • Want to create a Sunni caliphate across Iraq, Syria and neighboring countries
  • Control large parts of northern Syria
  • Well funded through sales of Syrian oil and antiquities
  • Vowed to attack Baghdad and Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf

  • ISIL insurgents have overrun large parts of northern and central Iraq; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite Muslim-led govt now seeking to regain control
  • 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent rise to power of Shiite-Muslim majority alienated Sunni Muslims; Sunnis felt marginalized under Maliki; some support ISIL
  • Maliki accuses ISIL of an alliance with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party
  • Shiites constitute majority in southern Iraq
Source: BBG

Moon of Alabama....

June 19, 2014

U.S. Again Gunning For "Regime Change" In Iraq

Three days ago we said:
The U.S. has conditioned any involvement on the Iraqi government side on a change in its structure towards some "unity government" that would include representatives of the rebellious Sunni strains. Prime Minister Maliki, who received good results in the recent elections, will see no reason to go for that.
As expected Maliki declined to follow orders out of Washington DC and he is right to do so. Isn't Iraq supposed to be a sovereign state?
No says Washington. It is us who are choosing a new Iraqi prime minister:
Over the past two days the American ambassador, Robert S. Beecroft, along with Brett McGurk, the senior State Department official on Iraq and Iran, have met with Usama Nujaifi, the leader of the largest Sunni contingent, United For Reform, and with Ahmad Chalabi, one of the several potential Shiite candidates for prime minister, according to people close to each of those factions, as well as other political figures.“Brett and the ambassador met with Mr. Nujaifi yesterday and they were open about this, they do not want Maliki to stay,” Nabil al-Khashab, the senior political adviser to Mr. Nujaifi, said Thursday.
This move lets arouse suspicions that the recent insurgency against the Iraqi state, with ISIS takfiris in the front line, did not just by chance started after Maliki's party, the State of Law Coalition, won in the parliamentary elections a few weeks ago. It had been decided that he had to go. When the elections confirmed him, other methods had to be introduced. Thus the insurgency started and is now used as a pretext for "regime change".
The U.S. media and policies again fall for the "big bad man" cliche portraying Nouri al-Maliki (Arabic for Ngo Dinh Diem) as the only person that stands in the way of Iraq as a "liberal democracy". That is of course nonsense. Maliki is not the problem in Iraq:
The most significant factor behind Iraq’s problems has been the inability of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and its Sunni neighbors to come to terms with a government in which the Shias, by virtue of their considerable majority in Iraq’s population, hold the leading role. This inability was displayed early on, when Iraq’s Sunnis refused to take part in Iraq’s first parliamentary elections, and resorted to insurgency almost immediately after the US invasion and fall of Saddam Hussein. All along, the goal of Iraqi Sunnis has been to prove that the Shias are not capable of governing Iraq. Indeed, Iraq’s Sunni deputy prime minister, Osama al Najafi, recently verbalized this view. The Sunnis see political leadership and governance to be their birthright and resent the Shia interlopers.
The U.S., with strong support from its GCC allies who finance the insurgency, now seems to again lean towards the Sunni minority side in Iraq and wants to subvert the ruling of a Shia majority and its candidate. Maliki doesn't follow Washington orders, is somewhat friendly with Iran and even wins elections. Such man can not be let standing.
So the program is again "regime change" in Iraq, now with the help of Jihadists proxies, even after the recent catastrophic "successes" in similar endeavors in Libya, Egypt and Ukraine and the failure in Syria.
Phil Greaves seems thereby right when he characterizes the insurgency and ISIS as a expression of Washington's imperialism:
The ISIS-led insurgency currently gripping the western and northern regions of Iraq is but a continuation of the imperialist-sponsored insurgency in neighboring Syria. The state actors responsible for arming and funding said insurgency hold the same principal objectives in Iraq as those pursued in Syria for the last three years, namely: the destruction of state sovereignty; weakening the allies of an independent Iran; the permanent division of Iraq and Syria along sectarian lines establishing antagonistic “mini-states” incapable of forming a unified front against US/Israeli imperial domination.

The best thing Maliki could now do is to shut down the U.S. embassy and request support from Russia, China and Iran. South Iraq is producing lots of oil and neither money nor the number of potential recruits for a big long fight are his problem. His problem is the insurgency and the states, including the United States, behind it. The fight would be long and Iraq would still likely be parted but the likely outcome would at least guarantee that the will of the majority constituency can not be ignored by outside actors.


Food Prices Spike in Baghdad

By Adel Fakhir 7 hours ago
Shiite militias driving through Baghdad's Sadr City. Photo: AP
Shiite militias driving through Baghdad's Sadr City. Photo: AP
BAGHDAD — The seizure of key Iraqi cities by Islamic militants coupled with the approaching holy month of Ramadan is driving up food prices in Baghdad. 
Economist Makki al-Shammari, an expert in consumer goods, confirmed what Baghdad residents have seen in the markets: the price of food has spiked this week amid an Islamist march toward Baghdad and unprecedented uncertainty about Iraq’s future. In addition to traders driving up the price of food, water and other goods amid speculation that Baghdad could fall to militants, routes to Baghdad have been cut off and residents are stocking up on essentials. 
Inflation is not new to Baghdad; in 2010, the International Monetary Fund said containing rising prices was “one of the most challenging aspects of economic management in Iraq.” 
“The market is witnessing significant fluctuations due to inflation and the market’s total dependence on food and commodity imports from abroad,” Shammari said. He predicted that prices “will rise dramatically in the near term.” 
“As Ramadan approaches it’s normal to have slightly higher prices, but coupled with the deteriorating security situation there’s a fear that things are getting out of control, which may cause an economic crisis,” he said.
Shammari called on the government to “take a firm stance” and “tighten control over the markets.” He recommended that Baghdad ensure goods make it to stores and that traders don’t exploit the uncertainty by driving up prices.
Political polarization is stalling work in Baghdad, however. ISIS is advancing toward the capital after capturing Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, along with Tikrit, Falluja and possibly the key city of Baiji which has been the center of battles between the Iraqi military and ISIS and is home to Iraq’s largest oil refinery. Meanwhile, Parliament has failed to meet to vote on embattled Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s proposal to declare a state of emergency.
Omar Majid, 36, from the Karrada district of central Baghdad said, “Prices are rising day after day. There are greedy war-mongering traders who take advantage of the situation and increase prices.” 
“People are having to deal with sick and greedy traders-exploiters raising food prices whenever there are problems,” he added. “It’s on the government to tackle this important issue because it affects the livelihood of Iraq’s poor.” 
Iraqis continue to receive food subsidies even as the country’s economy has grown. Iraq’s GDP was expected to grow 5.9 percent in 2014, the fastest of any country in the Middle East and North Africa except Qatar which also had 5.9 percent estimated growth, the International Monetary Fund reported. Consumer inflation was projected at 1.9 percent, similar to 2013 and far less than the 6.1 percent inflation rate in 2012.

President Barzani Condemns Shiite Incitement Against Kurds

By RUDAW 3 hours ago

Many members of Shiite militias in Baghdad have responded to the call to take up arms. Photo: AFP
Many members of Shiite militias in Baghdad have responded to the call to take up arms. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani’s office condemned allegations by Shiite militia leaders who accuse the Kurds of involvement in the current crisis in Iraq, saying those making such statements would be responsible for any consequences.
“We expect the Shiite clerical authorities and political parties in Baghdad and southern Iraq to play their part and not let these voices become a threat and cause of turmoil in Iraq,” said a statement by Barzani’s office on Thursday.
It referred to recent speeches by Iraqi militia leaders, mainly in Najaf and other Shiite areas, who have vowed to fight the Kurds alongside the Sunni militants who have swept across Iraq.
Fighting continued in several parts of Iraq Friday between government forces and rebels led by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, the militants’ advance against Baghdad has reportedly slowed.
Barzani’s statement condemned speeches by Qais al-Khazaali, leader of the Asaid Ahl al-Haq militia, as “hateful and chauvinistic against Kurds living in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.”
Last week Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the country’s highest Shiite authority, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called on Iraq’s Shiites to take up arms and save the country from the ISIS, which has captured several key Sunni cities and has vowed to march on Baghdad.
Asaid Ahl al-haq was the first to respond to this call, their members taking to the streets in large numbers, waving guns and vowing jihad against the ISIS.
“He (al-Khazaali) has also incited members of his group to go and threaten Kurds in those areas and broadcasted their threats in the media,” read Barzani’s statement.
The same militia was also active against US troops in Iraq and fought battles in Baghdad, Sadr City and Basra.
Some Kurdish drivers in Diyala province complained last week that they were harassed at checkpoints manned by members of the Shiite militia group.
Referring to al-Khazaali, Barzani’s statement warned that he “cannot frighten the Kurds, and we say it clearly that he will be held responsible for any untoward incident.” 
Kurdish authorities have so far refused to join the war between the Sunni militants and government troops. Kurdish Peshmerga forces are stationed along the southern borders of their autonomous region to stop the spillover of the war.
In the meantime, Kurdish leaders have called on the Iraqi government to protect Kurds living in Baghdad and other cities under the central government.
The Iraqi capital was until 10 years ago home to one million Kurds, mainly Failis. Many left during the sectarian war several years ago, but tens of thousands still live in Baghdad.
“How could a group threaten people in Baghdad and in broad daylight?” said the statement published on the website of the president’s office.

Erbil Denies Selling Half-Price Oil, Slams Bloomberg Report

By Harvey Morris 2 hours ago

Kurdistan Region Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami. Photo: AFP
Kurdistan Region Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami. Photo: AFP
London – The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has denied an international news agency report that it was selling oil through its new pipeline to Turkey at half the world crude price.
A statement from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) expressed surprise and disappointment over a Bloomberg report published on Thursday and headlined: “Half-Price Kurdish Oil Threatens Iraq Breakup With Turkish Help.”
The ministry said it had complained to the American agency, which had later changed the headline. But Bloomberg stood by its claim that oil was being sold at half-price, which the ministry described as false. The agency attributed its information to an unnamed official involved in the trade.
The report came as violence in Iraq prompted a surge in benchmark crude to above $115 a barrel this week.
Exports through the new pipeline to the port of Ceyhan are a highly sensitive issue for the KRG, which has been involved for months in a bitter dispute with Baghdad that predates the latest Iraqi crisis.
What appears to have angered the ministry is that the disputed headline could imply that the KRG is conspiring in the break-up of Iraq and selling its oil cheap, perhaps to overcome buyer resistance to purchasing oil whose ownership is disputed by Baghdad.
“At a time of great tension for Iraq, such shoddy reporting, analysis and editorializing seems calculated to cause further division and mistrust, and could also harm the financial interests of the KRG and Iraq,” the MNR said in the statement.
It said the KRG would never consider exporting and selling Iraq’s natural resources at half price, either now or in the future. The KRG sold oil through the pipeline to Ceyhan on an international commercial market basis, it added.
Despite blackmail and threats by Iraq’s State Oil Marketing ‎Organization (SOMO) and the oil ministry in Baghdad, the KRG had been able to deliver oil to its customers under commercially viable contracts, the statement said. All payments were being made into the KRG’s account in Turkey.
The statement reiterated the KRG position that direct sales of Kurdish oil are legal, constitutional, and fall within the Kurdistan region’s 17 per cent entitlement of the federal Iraqi budget.
The ministry complained that Bloomberg had made no attempt to contact KRG officials for comment or verification of its report. The story had used quotes and language in such a way as to accuse the KRG and Turkey of trying to break up Iraq and steal Iraq’s money.
The statement reiterated a commitment, made in London this week by natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami, that the KRG remained open to dialogue with Baghdad to resolve all outstanding issues on oil and gas within the framework of the constitution.
Hawrami told the Iraq Petroleum Conference in London that the first two consignments of Kurdish oil shipped from Ceyhan had been sold and that two more tankers were being loaded week. 
The minister said current Kurdish exports were at 125,000 barrels per day, a figure that would double by July and reach 400,000 bpd by the end of the year. He said the export policy would remain in place “until there’s agreement on 17 per cent or we get our own 17 per cent.”
 “We are not going back to where Baghdad can use its red card anytime it wants to,” he declared.
Bloomberg did not immediately respond to a Rudaw request to comment on the KRG complaint.

Anti - War....

Maliki: I Won’t Quit for US Military Aid

Spokesman: US Should Immediately Attack ISIS

by Jason Ditz, June 19, 2014

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ruled out resigning from his post in return for US military aid in the ongoing battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The ISIS takeover of a large portion of Iraq has the Obama Administration looking to intervene, but also looking to get rid of Maliki, who they blame for the sectarian tension in the nation.
Maliki’s spokesman insists that the US should stop worrying about Maliki and instead launch immediate operations to save the Iraqi government, insisting Maliki “never used sectarian tactics.”
Yet Maliki has repeatedly used the military against Sunni protesters, and charged Sunni MPs with any clout as “terrorists.” It was in the context of these moves that violence was growing across Iraq for months before ISIS even started taking over territory. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.

Iraqi PM’s Rivals Aim to Be US-Approved Successor

Ahmed Chalabi Positioning Himself as 'Moderate' Candidate

by Jason Ditz, June 19, 2014
Though President Obama insisted he isn’t “demanding” such a move, the White House has made it clear they want Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ousted in favor of a new prime minister who would be less despised by Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
Three candidates have stepped forward so far to try to claim the position of US-approved successor to the Maliki government, all of them Shi’ites from other factions.
Adel Abdul Mahdi, a former VP and top figure in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), is one of the candidates, and was close to getting the post in 2006. He is seen as favorable by the Kurdish political blocs, which could help him.
Former Badr Brigade commander Bayan Jabar is another possible SIIC candidate, and as a former Interior Minister has some claim to being the most militarily savvy choice. His Interior Ministry term saw widespread torture of prisoners, however, and would not be viewed favorably by Sunnis.
Finally, we have the notorious Ahmed Chalabi, from the Iraqi National Congress. One of the main architects of the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq, Chalabi is trying to position himself as the “moderate” choice, insisting he opposes the De-Ba’athification Laws that he was previously in charge of enforcing. His long history of harsh mistreatment of the Sunnis is likely to harm his credibility as a unifier, but his long history of support from the US and Iran might give him the inside track to being the “US-approved” ruler.

Maliki Frees Shi’ite Prisoners to Fight ISIS

2,000 Dangerous Prisoners Released for War

by Jason Ditz, June 19, 2014
Underscoring his growing desperation, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the release of 2,000 Shi’ite prisoners held in a maximum security prison in the north, many of them sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
The plan is to have the Shi’ites go off and fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has taken over large portions of the nation’s north and west.
The move is likely to increase tensions with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), where many of the prisoners were being held, as well as Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, since the prisoners are being unleashed on their towns.
Large numbers of Iraqi Shi’ites are already been organized into volunteer militias to fight against ISIS, and it remains unclear if the prisoners will be a separate faction or will just be folded into these militias.

Iraq troops mass for offensive against rebels

Forces gather north of Baghdad, as Prime Minister Maliki faces international pressure to form an inclusive government.

Last updated: 20 Jun 2014 11:22
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Tens of thousands of Iraqis have volunteered to help security forces fight Sunni rebels AFP
Iraqi forces were massing north of Baghdad, aiming to strike back at Sunni rebels who have taken control of large parts of the country.
The governor of Saladin province, Abdullah al-Jibouri, said 50,000 soldiers were now stationed around Samarra, intending to regain territory lost to rebel groups led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Al-Jibouri, whose provincial capital, Tikrit, was taken by anti-government fighters last week, was seen on television on Friday speaking to Iraqi soldiers, the Reuters news agency reported.
"Today we are coming in the direction of Tikrit, Sharqat and Nineveh," said al-Jibouri, a Sunni ally of Iraq's Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Samarra, which is 100kms north of Baghdad, has become the frontline in the battle with Sunni fighters allied to ISIL.

After rapid gains last week the rebel advance has been largely halted, with heavy fighting continuing in several towns.
Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said Iraqi forces were in control of the oil refinery outside the town of Baiji, 43km from Tikrit.
Map: ISIL's path through Iraq
Tribal leaders had negotiated a rebel withdrawal to the town, which they control completely, Khan said.
Pressure on Maliki
The rapid gains by the rebels prompted the United States to on Thursday announce the deployment of 300 military advisers to Iraq, stopping short of granting Maliki's request for air strikes.
US President Barack Obama called on the Iraqi prime minister to do more to overcome sectarian divisions that have fuelled resentment among the large Sunni minority.
The US president stopped short of calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign as Iraqi prime minister, saying it was not up to the US to choose Iraq's leaders.
Obama's comments were echoed by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who said Iraq needed a national unity government "with or without" Maliki.
Fabius said it was critical for the Iraqi government to reach out to ordinary Sunnis before they sided with ISIL.
Iraq's Shia-led government has been accused of pursuing anti-Sunni policies, pushing some Sunnis towards supporting ISIL.
The al-Qaeda splinter group, which has its roots in the war that followed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, is known for its fiery rhetoric, and targeting of Shias.
Pictures published by ISIL-related Twitter accounts last week showed dozens of Shia Iraqi soldiers being executed by it.

ISIS Attack On Baiji Refinery Threatens Kurdish Power, Drives Up Fuel Prices

on June 19 2014 5:23 PM
Baiji Refinery
Smoke rises from a oil refinery in Baiji, Iraq, in this picture taken through the windscreen of a car, June 19, 2014.REUTERS/Stringer

KIRKUK, Iraq -- As militiamen affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attacked Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji, locals in Iraqi Kurdistan are suffering from a lack of fuel, causing long lines at the gas pump and forcing several filling stations to shut down.
The Kurdish military, the peshmerga, seized the oil-rich lands around this city last week, taking advantage of the Iraqi army’s panicked flight in the face of the ISIS advance. Kurds have established a semi-autonomous state in northern Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but had ceded control of the multi-ethnic oil region around Kirkuk as part of an agreement with the Baghdad government brokered by the Americans.  
Yet the region is less stable now in regard to oil than it was when the Iraqi military had control of it. Peshmerga officials here said they hoped the takeover of Kirkuk would let the Kurdish government control Iraq’s northern oil fields almost completely. But constant attacks by ISIS in rural villages around the city and the group’s siege of Baiji’s oil refinery, Iraq’s largest, threatens the peshmerga's hold on the region.
Cars at a gas station called “Filling Station City” outside of Kirkuk waited for more than two hours this week to fill their tanks. Attendants at the station said Wednesday that they only had enough gas to last one more day because of the fighting in the region and the massive influx of refugees.
Owners of stations in the area said they receive almost all of their oil from Baiji, but fighting there has cut that flow almost completely. ISIS moved to take over the refinery in Baiji earlier this week and clashes continued Thursday between the militant group and the Iraqi military. The fighting, which has so far killed more than 40, prompted several international oil companies to pull staff out of Iraq.
When ISIS attacked Kirkuk last week, Iraqi military forces fled, leaving room for the peshmerga to move in and take control of its oil-rich lands -- something the Kurdish Regional Government has wanted since the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq in 2011.
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein implemented during his rule policies that systematically pushed ethnic Kurds out of the city and replaced them with Sunni Arab regime loyalists. Since the U.S.-led invasion began in 2003, the Kurdish people have made efforts to move back to the area to reclaim their lands. The peshmerga takeover of the city of Kirkuk last week was one giant step forward in achieving that goal.
Even before the takeover of Kirkuk, the Kurdish government for years enjoyed booming oil sales because of its partnership with Turkey and pipeline going from Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Last week Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan announced the sale of more than 1 million barrels of Kurdish oil to world markets via Ceyhan. Baghdad said the sale was "unauthorized."
But peshmerga officials here said their involvement in the fight is not about the oil. Rather, it is about holding on to the land that the Kurds had in the past, and defending the region for nationalistic reasons.
Yet the economic benefits of controlling Kirkuk are undeniable. By controlling the oil in Kirkuk, the KRG could potentially finance itself independently from Baghdad. But the Iraqi military is not willing to let Iraqi Kurdistan gain that freedom, and it launched several attacks on villages near Kirkuk after the peshmerga took over the area, in an attempt to regain the oil revenue Iraq lost.
ISIS poses a threat to both the Iraqi government and the peshmerga. If it gained control over large amounts of oil, the two sides would be at a significant loss economically. On Thursday afternoon ISIS hung its flag on the refinery in Baiji, and put armed men at the checkpoints around it. The Iraqi government, however, claimed it still held control of the refinery.
The lack of refined oil products in Kirkuk has not only caused long wait times at the pump, but it has driven prices up drastically. Young boys sell small canisters of fuel to cars as an alternative to waiting at the station. At the beginning of the week, a canister cost 5,000 Iraqi dinars or about $4.50; by Thursday the price had shot up to about 35,000 dinars or $31.

AFP has useful round up of the "state of play" in seven key Iraqi towns after advances by Isis insurgents. 


Iraq's second-biggest city was the first to fall in the swift Sunni militant offensive. Capital of Nineveh province, Mosul is held by insurgents led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant jihadist group. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled the city of two million. There are conflicting reports about those who stayed behind, with some claiming they are chafing under strict Islamic law imposed by the jihadists while others say they have welcomed the militants. 


The second provincial capital captured after Mosul and hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein. Militants seized the city in Salaheddin province and freed hundreds of prisoners as they pushed their advance south. Iraqi forces launched air strikes targeting militants holed up in a palace compound where Saddam once received foreign guests. 


Militants briefly controlled three areas of Baquba, the confessionally-mixed capital of restive Diyala province, just miles north of Baghdad, but were repelled by security forces. During the violence, 44 prisoners in a police station were killed, but accounts conflict over who was responsible for the deaths.


After protracted clashes with militants, who held parts of Iraq's biggest oil refinery near Baiji, north of Baghdad in Salaheddin province, security forces wrested back full control of the facility on Thursday. The crisis, however, has further spooked international oil traders who are keeping a close eye on the militant offensive and its potential impact on Iraq's vast crude exports.


The ethnically mixed oil city of Kirkuk is the capital of the eponymous northern province. It has changed hands in the course of the offensive. Forces from autonomous the Kurdish region took control of it after federal troops quit the area. The city is the heart of a swathe of disputed territory which the Kurds have long wanted to incorporate into their region, over Baghdad's strong objections.


Home to the revered Shia Al-Askari shrine, whose 2006 bombing sparked a bloody Sunni-Shia sectarian war, Samarra has been attacked by militants but did not fall. Baghdad has sent reinforcements to the city, and said it aims to use it as a launchpad for operations to retake areas farther north.


Though militants have not been able to encroach on Baghdad, the mood in the capital has been tense. Security forces have taken on an increased presence, while Shia militias are openly operating. Counter-terrorism forces were recently deployed to west Baghdad because of fears of "terrorist sleeper cells". A long-held overnight curfew on movement in the capital has been extended in some areas.

A spokesman for Iraq's former deputy prime minster Ahmed Chalabi, has confirmed that Chalabi met the US official responsible for policy on Iraq in his Baghdad home amid reports that he is one of the figures being lined up as a possible replacement for Maliki.
The meeting between Chalabi and Brett McGurk, the US official responsible for policy on Iraq, occurred on Wednesday, Chalabi's Washington adviser Francis Brooke, told the Daily Beast.
“They discussed the current politics and Dr. Chalabi told him it would be very difficult for (Nouri al) Maliki to continue as prime minister,” Brooke is quoted as saying.
Brooke would not say if Chalabi was eyeing the top job himself. But he did point out that the former exile leader—who is now a member of parliament and a senior member of the Shi’ite party affiliated with Iraq's powerful Hakim family—supported the creation of a national reconciliation committee and the release of Sunni prisoners detained without charge. What’s more, Brooke added, Chalabi “is now open to reconsideration of the national de-Baathification law.”
That’s the law that purged members of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party from Iraq’s government—the law that Chalabi helped write. Not surprising, the de-Baathification law is one piece of legislation that has infuriated Iraq’s Sunni minority, who say it has been used to isolate their leaders from important national positions.

Former Pentagon favourite Ahmad Chalabi twirls his prayer beads whilst making a phone call in Baghdad.
Former Pentagon favourite Ahmad Chalabi twirls his prayer beads whilst making a phone call in Baghdad. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP