U.S. officials say key Iraqi refinery isn’t actually all that key

Foreign Policy reports: Despite the recent focus by Iraqi and American officials on the importance of defending and holding the Iraqi oil refinery at Baiji, the Defense Department made a sharp reversal on Wednesday, claiming that the site doesn’t actually matter as they used to say.

The refinery is “not strategically any more significant than any other piece of ground” in Iraq, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

In recent days, Islamic State fighters have breached the perimeter of the facility and established a foothold inside the refinery, though Warren declined to estimate how much ground they now hold or if the Iraqi forces inside were being reinforced or resupplied in any way.

“At this point it’s impossible to predict how this is going to turn out,” Warren said. “It’s been a tough, fluid fight [and] right now it’s flowing in the wrong direction.”

His comments represent a stark change in attitude over the fate of the facility than had been put forth by top U.S. and Iraqi officials as recently as mid-April, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Washington.

Speaking to reporters on April 16, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey called Baiji “a more strategic target” than places like Ramadi because of the centrality of oil to the Iraqi economy. “That’s why the focus right now is in fact on Baiji,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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