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Iraq seeks US support 'to break the morale' of ISIL fighters
Thursday June 19, 2014 12:22 PM, Agencies

Iraq's foreign minister Wednesday asked the US to launch air attacks on Sunni rebels to put down a week-long rebellion by fighters led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Iraq Refinery attack

Hoshyar Zebari told a news conference on Wednesday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that a request had been made "to break the morale" of ISIL fighters.

The statement came as Iraqi security forces battled rebels at the country's main oil refinery and claimed to regain partial control of a city near the Syrian border.

General Martin Dempsey, the top US military commander, confirmed the request during a Senate sub-committee hearing.

"We have a request from the Iraqi government for air power," said Dempsey. "It is in our national security interest to counter ISIL wherever we find them."

Earlier, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said the government had "started our counter-offensive, regaining the initiative and striking back".

Maliki's relatively upbeat assessment came as the military claimed its forces regained parts of the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border, which ISIL fighters captured on Monday.

Its closeness to the Syrian border strengthens ISIL's plan to carve out an "Islamic emirate" stretching across the Iraq-Syria border.

Also on Wednesday, Iraqi government forces claimed to have repelled an attack by rebels on the country's largest oil refinery at Baiji, about 250km north of Baghdad, according to Qassim al-Moussawi, the chief military spokesman.

Moussawi said 40 attackers were killed in the fighting there overnight and on Wednesday morning.

There was no independent confirmation of his claims, nor those on the Iraqi military retaking neighbourhoods in Tal Afar.

Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Baghdad, said that he spoke to a relative of an official at the refinery and was told that "75 per cent of the refinery was under the control of the rebels".

"The situation remains unclear," he said.

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