The Islamic State is reported to have ignited oil fields near the city of Tikrit on Wednesday. This act of defiance comes as Shia-led militants and Iraqi forces enter the city in an effort to drive out the Sunni-led group. Black smoke was seen rising from the highly-valued oil fields Wednesday afternoon. The fields represent a significant source of funds for the group that controls them, even if they are operated without technical expertise.
Prior to the Islamic State occupation of Tikrit in June of last year, the fields were producing 25,000 barrels of crude oil every day. This was then shipped to a refinery northeast of Tikrit in Kirkuk for processing. The field was also producing 150 cubic feet of gas each day that is transported via pipeline to the government-controlled Kirkuk power station.
The city of Tikrit is best known as being the city from where the Sunni leader Saddam Hussein was. Now, it represents one of the first towns that may be taken back from the Islamic State by militia forces. The town is primarily Sunni, which has caused the White House and some human rights organizations to express concern for the population after the city is retaken.
Genral Abdul Wahhab al-Saadi, an Iraqi leader fighting the Islamic State, has informed the media that the igniting of the oil fields will not deter them from advancing on the city. Other factors have slowed their advance, though. Mines along the roadway and suicide bombers have caused them to advance with caution. Also on Wednesday, an Islamic State suicide bomber driving a tanker filled with explosives crashed into the militia’s camp, killing Iranian leader Madi al-Kinani as well as four others.
The United Nations has reported that over 28,000 people have been driven from their homes and displaced due to the fight against the Islamic State and the continued military operations. Many of these people have gone to the province of Samarra. Others remain at checkpoints waiting to be processed. This number is predicted to increase in the coming days as the fighting against the Islamic State continues.
There is no sign that the fighting will stop in the near future. In fact, famed Iranian military strategist Major General Qasem Soleimani, a former special operations leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, is leading the operation now. The general is advising on tactical maneuvers against the Islamic State, but is also providing access to needed supplies for the Shia-led group from Tehran. He has been photographed on the eastern front, where he has positioned himself to combat the Islamic State militants.
In igniting the oil fields, the Islamic State has demonstrated that they are not going to give up territory easily. Over 30,000 troops have moved towards their position just outside Tikrit. This battle is gaining more and more attention from Iran, because the province of Samarra contains the Imam al-Askari shrine, which is one of the holiest sites for Iranian Shia Muslims in the world. It is important, though, to monitor this war against the Islamic State as it affects the local populations, as has been expressed by the White House and the United Nations.
By Joel Wickwire