Last night fighters from the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) waged an attack on the Beiji refinery, 155 miles north of Baghdad, that continued into the morning. An official at the refinery said the attackers had taken control of what amounts to "75 percent of the refinery." The refinery is responsible for about a quarter of the country's refining capacity but is dedicated exclusively to domestic demand. It was reportedly closed last week as ISIS fighters advanced in the area. An extended disruption would create gas and electricity shortages, exacerbating the chaos in Iraq. Earlier today, the Iraqi government insisted it had repelled the attack on Beiji, with a military spokesperson claiming 40 militants had been killed.
ISIS fighters haven't yet disrupted Iraq's production of oil for foreign consumption, but if they're interested in dragging western nations into their conflict they may well be planning it. The price of oil and gas has already spiked in anticipation of such a disruption. Many opponents of the U.S. war in Iraq pointed to oil as the real reason it was waged, and ISIS may well be interested in getting the U.S. back into Iraq—such an intervention could help ISIS make the case that Iraq's government is weak and illegitimate, and that they provide a better alternative that can also resist American encroachment.
In the meantime, President Obama has deployed 275 military service members to Iraq which the White House insists shouldn't be considered "combat troops," despite the fact that the troops are almost certainly being placed in harm's way. The troops will "provide support and security" for U.S. personnel and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, at 4.7 million square feet the largest in the world. The president is also reportedly considering an aerial bombing campaign to target insurgents in Iraq, one that might look something like the ongoing drone campaign in Yemen. Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, reportedly asked the Obama administration for such airstrikes secretly last month. Since being re-elected yet again in April, al-Maliki has still been unable to form a new government.