Thick black smoke billowing from oil wells northeast of the city of Tikrit is obstructing Shi'ite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers attempts to drive ISIS from the Sunni Muslim city after militants set them on fire. Reuters reports a witness and a military source said Islamic State fighters ignited the fire at the Ajil oil field to shield themselves from attack by Iraqi military helicopters. As we noted previously, the battle for Tikrit is key as it will determine whether and how fast the Iraqi forces can advance further north and attempt to win back Mosul, the biggest city under Islamic State rule.
Islamic State militants have set fire to oil wells northeast of the city of Tikrit to obstruct an assault by Shi'ite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers trying to drive them from the Sunni Muslim city and surrounding towns, a witness said.
The witness and a military source said Islamic State fighters ignited the fire at the Ajil oil field to shield themselves from attack by Iraqi military helicopters.
The offensive is the biggest Iraqi forces have yet mounted against IS, which has declared an Islamic caliphate on captured territory in Iraq and Syria and spread fear across the region by slaughtering Arab and Western hostages and killing or kidnapping members of religious minorities like Yazidis and Christians.
Black smoke could be seen rising from the oil field since Wednesday afternoon, said the witness, who accompanied Iraqi militia and soldiers as they advanced on Tikrit from the east.
Control of oil fields has played an important part in funding Islamic State, even if it lacks the technical expertise to run them at full capacity.
Before IS took over Ajil last June, the field produced 25,000 barrels per day of crude that were shipped to the Kirkuk refinery to the north-east, as well as 150 million cubic feet of gas per day piped to the government-controlled Kirkuk power station.
An engineer at the site, about 35 km (20 miles) northeast of Tikrit, told Reuters last July that Islamic State fighters were pumping lower volumes of oil from Ajil, fearing that their primitive extraction techniques could ignite the gas.
Bombing in August damaged the Ajil field's control room, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The outcome of the battle for Tikrit, best known as the home town of executed Sunni president Saddam Hussein, will determine whether and how fast the Iraqi forces can advance further north and attempt to win back Mosul, the biggest city under Islamic State rule.
The army, backed by Shi'ite militia and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, has yet to reconquer and secure any city held by Islamic State, despite seven months of air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition, as well as weapons supplies and strategic support from neighboring Iran.
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In the background of this clip (of Iraqi special forces attacking ISIS), one can see the start of the fires...
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As we noted previously, there is still much confusion all around since pretty much everyone in the middle east is now somehow involved in this war on Iraqi/ISIS soil, so to provide some clarity, here is a simple map showing who controls what in this latest diversionary war designed merely to get Syria's president committed so the US has a legitimate pretext to obliterate him.