Tags: mosul | battle | isis | chemical | weapons

Battle for Mosul: Expect ISIS to Use Chemical Weapons, Says US

Image: Battle for Mosul: Expect ISIS to Use Chemical Weapons, Says US

By    |   Wednesday, 19 Oct 2016 12:08 PM

The United States expects the Islamic State to use chemical weapons against Iraqi-led forces to defend its grip on the city of Mosul, Reuters reported American officials as saying on Wednesday.

Roughly 5,000 U.S. forces are in Iraq. More than 100 of them are embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces involved with the Mosul offensive, advising commanders and helping them ensure coalition air power hits the right targets, officials said. Still, those forces are not at the front lines, they added.

Attacking Iraqi forces are still 12 to 30 miles from the city itself and U.S. officials believe that Islamic State is most likely to use chemical weapons later in the campaign, in what could be a difficult, protracted battle.

The leader of Islamic State was reported to be among thousands of hardline militants still in the city, suggesting the group would go to great lengths to repel the coalition.

American officials believe some of Islamic State's best fighters are in Mosul, reported Reuters.

Meanwhile, the offensive slowed suddenly outside a key town as Islamic State militants deployed suicide car bombs and rained down mortar rounds, The Associated Press reported an Iraqi army officer as saying on Wednesday.

The officer from the 9th Division told AP that his troops were now around a half mile from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida.

Since Tuesday, IS has sent 12 car bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, he said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, did not provide specific figures.

Iraq launched the massive operation on Monday to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city and the extremist group's biggest urban bastion.

The operation is the largest launched by the Iraqi army since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Some 25,000 troops, including Sunni tribal fighters, Kurdish forces and state-sanctioned Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units are approaching the city from different directions.

The participation of the Shiite militias in the operation to retake the mainly Sunni Mosul has raised concerns that the campaign could inflame sectarian tensions. Rights groups have accused the Shiite militias of abuses in past campaigns against IS-held areas.

In a bid to alleviate those concerns, Shiite militia leaders on Tuesday announced that they will only focus on capturing the mostly Shiite town of Tal Afar to the west of Mosul, and not enter the city itself.

"The only troops who will enter Mosul are the army and police, not the Popular Mobilization Units or the peshmerga," said Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Brigade, one of the largest Shiite militias.

"This has been agreed upon," he said at a press conference in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday that Iraqi government and paramilitary forces detained, tortured or killed hundreds of Sunni Arab civilians fleeing IS-held areas during the operation to retake the Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, earlier this year.

The Iraqi government has denied any systematic violations by security forces or the militias, and says individuals have been held accountable for occasional abuses, reported the AP.

According to Reuters, U.S. forces have begun to regularly collect shell fragments to test for possible chemical agents, given Islamic State's use of mustard agent in the months before Monday's launch of the Mosul offensive, one official said.

In a previously undisclosed incident, U.S. forces confirmed the presence of a sulfur mustard agent on Islamic State munition fragments on Oct. 5, a second official said. The Islamic State had targeted local forces, not U.S. or coalition troops.

"Given ISIL's reprehensible behavior and flagrant disregard for international standards and norms, this event is not surprising," the second official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, and using an acronym for Islamic State.

U.S. officials do not believe Islamic State has been successful so far at developing chemical weapons with particularly lethal effects, meaning that conventional weapons are still the most dangerous threat for advancing Iraqi and Kurdish forces – and any foreign advisers who get close enough.

Sulfur mustard agents can cause blistering on exposed skin and lungs. At low doses, however, that would not be deadly.

The fall of Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could also lead to land grabs and sectarian bloodletting between groups that fought one another after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

President Barack Obama estimated on Thursday that perhaps 1 million civilians were still in Mosul, creating a challenge for Iraq and its Western backers trying to expel the group through force.

"If we aren't successful in helping ordinary people as they're fleeing from ISIL, then that makes us vulnerable to seeing ISIL return," Obama told reporters in Washington.

The International Organization for Migration’s Iraq chief, Thomas Weiss, said on Tuesday he expected Islamic State militants to use Mosul residents as human shields and lent his voice to concerns about the dangers of chemical agents.

The IOM had not managed to procure many gas masks yet, despite those risks, Weiss said from Baghdad.

"We also fear, and there has been some evidence that ISIL might be using chemical weapons. Children, the elderly, disabled, will be particularly vulnerable,” Weiss said.

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The United States expects the Islamic State to use chemical weapons against Iraqi-led forces to defend its grip on the city of Mosul, Reuters reported American officials as saying on Wednesday.
mosul, battle, isis, chemical, weapons
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2016-08-19
Wednesday, 19 Oct 2016 12:08 PM
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