U. S. be­lieves IS used chem­i­cal weapons against Pesh­marga

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The United States be­lieves Is­lamic State mil­i­tants likely used mus­tard agent in an at­tack on Kur­dish Pesh­merga forces in Kur­dis­tan ear­lier this week, the first in­di­ca­tion the mil­i­tant group has ob­tained a banned chem­i­cal weapon.

“We have cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion that the agent used in the at­tack was mus­tard,” a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said.

The United States is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the Is­lamic State used chem­i­cal weapons, the White House said Thurs­day, fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions that IS mil­i­tants de­ployed chem­i­cal weapons against Kur­dish forces in the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion.

Alis­tair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun- cil, said the U.S. is tak­ing the al­le­ga­tions “very se­ri­ously” and seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion about what hap­pened. He noted that IS had been ac­cused of us­ing such weapons be­fore.

“We con­tinue to mon­i­tor these re­ports closely, and would fur­ther stress that any use of chem­i­cals or bi­o­log­i­cal ma­te­rial as a weapon is com­pletely in­con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and norms re­gard­ing such ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” Baskey said in a state­ment.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, Kur­dish of­fi­cials said their Pesh­merga forces were at­tacked the day be­fore near the town of Makhmour, not far from Er­bil. Ger­many’s mil­i­tary has been train­ing the Kurds in the area, and the Ger­man De­fense Min­istry said some 60 Kur­dish fight­ers had suf­fered breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties from the at­tack – a tell­tale sign of chem­i­cal weapons use. But nei­ther Ger­many nor the Kurds spec­i­fied which type of chem­i­cal weapons may have been used.

Pesh­merga fight­ers told AFP Thurs­day that they had been the tar­get of a chem­i­cal at­tack on Tues­day. They sug­gested rock­ets filled with chlo­rine gas were to blame and did not men­tion mus­tard gas.

The Ger­man De­fense Min­istry has said that Iraqi and US spe­cial­ists are on their way to the scene of the at­tack to in­ves­ti­gate.

Mus­tard gas is an as­phyxi­ant that has been banned in war by the UN since 1993.

Is­lamic State could have ob­tained the mus­tard agent in Syria, whose gov­ern­ment ad­mit­ted to hav­ing large quan­ti­ties of the blis­ter­ing agent in 2013, when it agreed to give up its chem­i­cal weapons ar­se­nal, the news­pa­per re­ported.

Is­lamic State could also have ob­tained the mus­tard agent in Iraq, in­ter­na­tional media out­lets re­ported.

Con­fir­ma­tion of chem­i­cal weapons use by IS would mark a dra­matic turn in the U.S.-led ef­fort to rout the ex­trem­ist group from the roughly one-third of Iraq and Syria that it con­trols.

Although the U.S. and its coali­tion part­ners are mount­ing airstrikes against the Is­lamic State, they are re­ly­ing on lo­cal forces like the Kurds, the Iraqi mil­i­tary and oth­ers to do the fight­ing on the ground. Al­ready, those forces have strug­gled to match the might of the well-funded and heav­ily armed ex­trem­ist group.

At the United Na­tions, U.S. Am­bas­sador Sa­man­tha Power said the U.S. was speak­ing with the Kurds who had made the al­le­ga­tions to gather more in­for­ma­tion. She said that if re­ports of chem­i­cal weapons are true, they would fur­ther prove that what IS calls war­fare is re­ally “just sys­tem­atic at­tacks on civil­ians who don’t ac­cord to their par­tic­u­larly per­verse world view.”

“I think we will have to again move for­ward on these al­le­ga­tions, get what­ever ev­i­dence we can,” Power said.

She added that as a re­sult of ear­lier chem­i­cal weapons use by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, the U.S. and its part­ners now have ad­vanced foren­sic sys­tems to an­a­lyse chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks. She said any­one re­spon­si­ble should be held ac­count­able.

Sim­i­lar re­ports of chem­i­cal weapons use by IS had sur­faced in July. But it’s un­clear ex­actly where the ex­trem­ist group may have ob­tained any chem­i­cal weapons.

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