Senior Iraqi officials are reporting that the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been wounded in an airstrike, but the Pentagon says it has no such information.
Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Ubaydi purportedly issued a message on his Facebook page confirming that Baghdadi was wounded in a U.S. airstrike Friday in the northern city of Mosul.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry also confirmed the news to the Associated Press. Various other reports claim the airstrike killed one of Baghdadi's close aides.
Earlier Sunday, Britain's senior military officer warned that even if the reports are true, the Islamic State will regenerate its command. British Chief of Defense Staff Nick Houghton said in a BBC television interview that even if Baghdadi were killed, he would not rush to the conclusion that it would be a "strategic reverse" for the insurgents.
In a U.S. television interview President Barack Obama said airstrikes "have been very effective in degrading" the jihadists' capabilities and slowing their advance.
He said his deployment of an additional 1,500 U.S. troops to Iraq to train Baghdad's military marks a "new phase" in the fight against the Islamic State group. Obama said the doubling of the U.S. troop level will help Iraq go "on some offense," but he repeated his stance that American troops will not engage in ground fighting.
Battle for Baiji
Iraqi military forces reached the center of the northern city of Baiji on Sunday in an effort to break an Islamic State siege of the country's biggest refinery, triggering fierce clashes with the militants, according to an army colonel and a witness.
Islamic State Sunni insurgents seized Baiji in June during a lightning advance through northern Iraq.
Since then, they have surrounded the refinery and halted its production while a detachment of government troops has held out for months under siege inside it.
The colonel said Iraqi troops entered Baiji, a city of about 200,000 people, from the south and west and took over the al-Tamim neighborhood and city center.
Islamic State fighters had placed bombs along roads in Baiji and deployed snipers to keep government forces from advancing, tactics used in other cities held by the ultra-hardline Sunni group, which controls swaths of both Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi oil industry officials estimate the Islamic State group is making multimillion-dollar profits from the illegal trade.
The Baiji refinery was producing about 175,000 barrels per day before it was closed, a senior Iraqi official said in June. Iraq's domestic daily consumption is estimated at 600,000-700,000 bpd.
An end to the siege of the Baiji refinery would be seen as a major victory over Islamic State militants.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.