Iraq announces reopening of a key oil refinery a decade after it was stormed by the Islamic State

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister announced Friday the reopening of the Beiji refinery, the country’s largest, which had been shut down for a decade after being damaged in the battle against the Islamic State extremist group.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said in a statement that the refinery’s return to operation will enable Iraq to meet its oil derivative needs internally, saving billions of dollars annually, which he said “will be invested in other services and aspects of the economy.”

“Iraq, with its production of more than 4 million barrels per day, is still importing oil derivatives,” al-Sudani said. With the reopening of Beiji, he added, “We are close to securing the country’s entire needs for derivatives, no later than the middle of the year.”

The oil refinery in Beiji, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, has not operated since the IS seized the town as part of its blitz across much of Iraq in the summer of 2014. The facility, which previously had production capacity of more than 300,000 barrels a day, was heavily damaged in the fighting that ensued as Iraqi forces battled to retake control of the strategic site.

Much of the refinery’s equipment was looted. In August, al-Sudani announced the recovery of some 60 truckloads of supplies and equipment that had been stolen from the facility, which were found in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.

The facility played a symbolic as well as strategic role in the battle against IS. Its reopening comes against the backdrop of Iraq’s negotiations for the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces deployed to the country to fight the extremist group, and as Iraq has found itself in a precarious position amid regional tensions stoked by Israel’s war in Gaza.

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Since October, a group calling itself the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iran-backed militias, has launched dozens of attacks on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, citing U.S. support for Israel. These attacks have subsided in recent weeks and discussions have resumed between Iraqi and U.S. officials to outline a withdrawal framework for the coalition forces.

In January, Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity announced that it received a proposal from a Qatari company to invest in the nearby Beiji thermal station. The plan includes the development of six production units to generate 2,100 megawatts.

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