U. S. believes IS used chemical weapons against Peshmarga
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.