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  ‘ISIS first to use mustard gas since Saddam’

‘ISIS first to use mustard gas since Saddam’

REUTERS | ANTHONY DEUTSCH
Published : Feb 16, 2016, 5:58 am IST
Updated : Feb 16, 2016, 5:58 am IST

Islamic State (ISIS) militants attacked Kurdish forces in Iraq with mustard gas last year, in the first known use of chemical weapons in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a diplomat said, based o

Islamic State (ISIS) militants attacked Kurdish forces in Iraq with mustard gas last year, in the first known use of chemical weapons in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a diplomat said, based on tests by the global chemical weapons watchdog.

A source at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that laboratory tests had come back positive for the sulfur mustard, after around 35 Kurdish troops were sickened on the battlefield last August.

 

The OPCW will not identify who used the chemical agent. But the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the findings have not yet been released, said the result confirmed that chemical weapons had been used by ISIS fighters.

The samples were taken after the soldiers became ill during fighting against ISIS militants southwest of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The OPCW already concluded in October that mustard gas was used last year in neighbouring Syria. The ISIS has declared a “caliphate” in territory it controls in both Iraq and Syria and does not recognise the frontier.

The matter is expected to be raised at the next meeting of the OPCW’s 41-member executive council in a month, an official said.

 

If the ISIS used chemical weapons, experts are still uncertain of how the group might have obtained them, or whether it could have access to more. Another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Syria’s stockpile was a possible source of the sulphur mustard used in Iraq. That would mean Damascus had failed to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme, which was dismantled under international supervision in 2013-2014, the diplomat said.

“If Syria has indeed given up its chemical weapons to the international community, it is only the part that has been declared to the OPCW and the declaration was obviously incomplete,” the diplomat said.

 

Syrian officials could not immediately be reached for comment but have previously denied any part of the former stockpile remains undestroyed.

Experts believe that the sulfur mustard either originated from an undeclared Syrian chemical stockpile, or that militants have gained the basic know how to develop and conduct a crude chemical attack with rockets or mortars.

Iraq’s chemical arsenal was mainly destroyed in the Saddam era, although US troops encountered some old Saddam-era chemical munitions during the 2003-2011 US occupation.

Syria gave up its own chemical weapons, including stockpiles of sulfur mustard, under international supervision after hundreds of civilians were killed with sarin nerve gas in a Damascus suburb in 2013, an attack Western countries blame on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which denies it. Sulfur mustard is a Class 1 chemical agent, which means it has very few uses outside chemical warfare. Used with lethal effectiveness in World War One, it causes severe delayed burns to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract.

 

Location: Netherlands, Noord-Holland, Amsterdam