TIKRIT, Iraq, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces repelled an offensive carried out by extremist Sunni militants on major oil refinery in Salahudin province, killing more than 37 of them, a provincial security source said on Sunday.
Late on Saturday night, the forces backed by the air force fought back militants of the Islamic State, an al-Qaida offshoot, who tried to storm the oil refinery of Baiji, just outside the city of Baiji, some 200 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, using armored vehicles and suicide bombers, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The battle, which continued till the dawn of Sunday, started when seven suicide bombers broke into the gate of the outer fence of the refinery in an attempt to reach the second gate, but the troops managed to shoot them dead or forced them to blow themselves up, the source said.
"There are more than 30 bodies of the militants scattered near the outer fences of the refinery right now, let alone those who might have been killed by the airstrikes of the army's helicopters and warplanes at the back lines of the militants," the source said.
The huge refinery, which is surrounded by three defensive lines and several towers and manned by more than 300 heavily armed troops, has been a main target for the Islamic State militants since the advance of the Sunni insurgent militants earlier in June.
Salahudin province is a Sunni-dominated province and its capital Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, is the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein.
The security situation in Iraq has deteriorated since June 10 when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and hundreds of Sunni militants who took control of the country's northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after the Iraqi forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.