June 18, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Sunni militants battle security forces for control of refinery

Baghdad— Iraqi forces and Sunni militants battled fiercely for control of the nation’s largest oil refinery on Wednesday as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went on a diplomatic offensive, reaching out in a televised address to try to regain support from the nation’s disaffected Sunnis and Kurds.

Meanwhile, the government asserted that it had retaken partial control of a strategic city, Tal Afar, near the border with Syria.

Al-Maliki’s conciliatory words, coupled with a vow to teach the militants a “lesson,” came as almost all Iraq’s main communities have been drawn into a spasm of violence not seen since the dark days of sectarian killings nearly a decade ago.

The U.S. has been pressing al-Maliki to adopt political inclusion and undermine the insurgency by making overtures to Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority, which has long complained of discrimination by his government and abuses by his Shiite-led security forces.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has rejected charges of bias against Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds and has in recent days been stressing that the threat posed by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, will affect all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations.

In a move apparently designed to satisfy President Barack Obama’s demand for national reconciliation, al-Maliki expressed optimism in a televised address Wednesday over what he called the rise by all of Iraq’s political groups to the challenge of defending the nation against the militant threat.

The chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said Iraqi army troops had defended the refinery at Beiji, some 155 miles north of Baghdad, and 40 attackers were killed in fighting there overnight and early Wednesday.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on June 17, 2014, allegedly shows militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) parading with their weapons in the northern city of Baiji in the in Salaheddin province. Militants attacked Iraq's main oil refinery in Baiji on June 18 as they pressed an offensive that has seen them capture swathes of territory, a manager and a refinery employee said. / Getty Images
Iraqi civilians inspect damage in the aftermath of a Tuesday car bombing ... (Karim Kadim / AP)