Baghdad – The US-led coalition on Saturday provided 24,000 protective masks to Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers, after the Islamic State (ISIS) started to torch piles of sulphur, creating toxic clouds. The deadly sulphur had been stockpiled at Mosul University’s Faculty of Agriculture, which is located in the town of Hammam Ali.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a chemical weapons adviser to the Kurdish Peshmerga and NGOs working in Syria and Iraq, told ARA News that Saturday’s attack recklessly endangered civilians, combatants and the environment.
“Very toxic hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide is spewing into the air. Potentially up to 1 million tonnes. This can be fatal,” he said. “Saddam [Hussein] set fire to sulphur in 2003, and caused numerous casualties and burnt a hole in the ozone layer. ISIS set this fire deliberately as part of their use of chemical weapons to defend Mosul.”
The US-led coalition has trained Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the use of gas masks in preparation for the Mosul offensive. Responding to the poison cloud drifting east, the 60-member coalition issued several statements, which uniformly struck a defiant tone.
“The use of chemical weapons by the Islamic State group reinforces why the international coalition is assisting the Iraqi government to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS,” the US-led coalition said in a statement. “[ISIS] continues to kill indiscriminately and is completely unencumbered by any legal or moral restraint.”
ISIS has carried out chemical attacks on Kurdish Peshmerga forces near Kirkuk and Makhmour. However, Saturday’s attack is the first time that the extremist group burned chemicals to create toxic clouds.
“The enemy has used chemical weapons in the past, and we’re going to make sure we are taking every measure to mitigate the risk to our forces,” Major General Gary Volesky, commander of the coalition’s Combined Joint Forces, said in a statement. “Force protection is my number one priority here.”
“The coalition is trained. We’ve trained the Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga; they’ve got equipment,” Volesky said. “We’re targeting the training with the Iraqis and with the coalition to make sure we’re mitigating any risk.”