BAGHDAD -- Sunni militants have hung their black banners on watch towers at Iraq's largest oil refinery, a witness said Thursday. A top Iraqi security official, however, said the government still held the vital facility.
The fighting at Beiji, some 155 miles north of Baghdad, comes as Iraq has asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes targeting militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
The Iraqi witness who drove past the Beiji refinery told The Associated Press that militants also manned checkpoints around it. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals.
The Iraqi security official said the government force protecting the refinery was still inside Thursday.
Helicopter gunships flew over the facility to stop any militant advance, the official said. The insurgent took over a building just outside the refinery and were using it to fire at the government force, he added. The Beiji refinery accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country's entire refining capacity — all of which goes toward domestic consumption for things like gasoline, cooking oil and fuel for power stations.