The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed a chemical weapons attack targeting women and children in Mosul, Iraq, this week — likely an Islamic State operation intended to slow the liberation of its regional capital.
Reuters notes that the Red Cross did not identify the chemical weapon used, instead noting that the seven victims — five children and two women — suffered from “blisters, redness in the eyes, irritation, vomiting, and coughing.” The group also did not confirm whether the Islamic State used the weapons, but it did condemn their use “in the strongest possible terms” and describe the weapon as a “blistering chemical agent.”
The Kurdish outlet Kurdistan24 reported that a chemical weapons attack occurred in Mosul on Thursday, organized by the Islamic State. The outlet delivered a broadcast from the hospital treating the child victims.
The Islamic State has a long record of developing and using rudimentary chemical weapons against Iraqi troops, Kurdish militias, and American allies on the ground. The analytics organization IHS Markit published a study in November 2016 documenting 52 uses of chemical weapons by the jihadi organization in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2016. In 2015, the United Nations warned that instances of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Civil War generally had “become routine.” Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has notoriously used chemical agents during the civil war on repeated occasions, despite a warning from the Obama White House to not cross the “red line” of such use.
The Pentagon and international monitor organizations have repeatedly stated that they expect ISIS to use some form of chemical weapon against liberating forces both in Mosul and the capital of their “caliphate,” Raqqa, when the operation to destroy that final ISIS stronghold begins.
“We recognize this is real. They’re dead set on it. They would love to be able to use chemical weapons against us, against the Iraqis as they move forward,” U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in October. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also warned that ISIS would likely target civilians with chemical weapons in Mosul as the operation to reclaim that city grew increasingly successful.
This year, as the Iraqi government announced that Baghdad’s troops and Shiite militias had eradicated ISIS from half of the city, troops on the ground revealed that the Islamic State had turned the University of Mosul, once among the nation’s greatest academic institutions, into a makeshift chemical weapons factory. Islamic State scientists had used radioactive chemicals from the university’s laboratories to create dangerous explosives, as well as manufacturing mustard gas and other similar chemical agents.
In perhaps the largest and most dangerous creation of a makeshift chemical weapon, Islamic State terrorists reportedly turned a large Mosul chemical plant into a weapon by surrounding and rigging it with explosives.
The BBC notes that the Islamic State has previously attempted to use mustard gas against American soldiers in the region.
The 1925 Geneva Protocol bans the use of chemical weapons during the course of a war, though it did not serve as a serious deterrent to their use as it did not ban the manufacture of such weapons. The United Nations ultimately banned them in signatory countries with the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention. The use of chemical weapons against civilians in the context of armed struggle is a war crime under international law.