ISIS May Be Using Chemical Weapons

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SIS fighters parade through the Syrian town of Tel Abyad on January 2, 2014.Photo: REUTERS/Yaser Al-Khodor

File under terrible but not surprising: United States officials say they suspect ISIS used mustard agent against Kurdish fighters in Iraq this week. The AP reports that on Wednesday ISIS attacked about 60 Peshmerga fighters near Makhmour, a town near Erbil, and the fighters then suffered breathing difficulties. There’s been no confirmation of what type of chemical weapon was used, but U.S. officials tell The Wall Street Journal that they’ve suspected that ISIS had obtained a small supply of mustard agent for some time. The weapon can cause burns and blisters, but it’s only deadly in large quantities.

It’s possible that the terrorist group found old chemical weapons that belonged to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but it’s more likely that they obtained mustard agent in Syria. The Syrian government admitted to having large amounts of mustard agent when they agreed to give up their chemical weapons two years ago, but U.S. officials doubt their claim that it was all destroyed. The Assad regime also had sarin and VX, which are far more dangerous, but there is no evidence that ISIS has those chemical weapons.

There are reports that Syrian president Bashar Assad’s forces have used chlorine-filled bombs, and ISIS has been accused of using chlorine gas in Iraq as well. Chlorine isn’t a banned chemical, since it has legitimate uses and it isn’t extremely toxic, but using it as a weapon is prohibited under international law.

Alistair Baskey, a White House National Security Council spokesman, said the U.S. takes the allegations “very seriously” and is investigating. “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 (not that ISIS cares about such things).