As Battle For Mosul Intensifies, Risk of Chemical Weapons Increases

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Islamic State militant & Flag
Photo Credit: 
By VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some Islamic scholars believe that weapons of mass destruction are actually against the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad. Apparently, the Islamic State doesn’t agree, or at least holds no reservations when it comes to using chemical weapons. An independent analysis by IHS Markit has found that the Islamic State has used chemical weapons on at least 52 different occasions in both Syria and Iraq.

The report compiled information from ISIS propaganda, local news reports, and other sources. Chemical weapons have been outlawed under Geneva Conventions, which was signed in 1928, and use of such weapons can result in international prosecution. Chemical weapons are exceptionally dangerous, and can have disastrous effects on civilians trapped in war zones.

The United States and most other advanced nations do not maintain active stockpiles of chemical weapons. In 1993, another agreement was signed at the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), with the United States and most other countries signing onto the deal. Syria didn’t sign onto the Convention until 2013, after the government had been caught using chemical weapons, and the United States threatened war as a result.

Islamic State Seized Chemical Weapons From Syrian Army

The Islamic State appears to have seized most of chemical weapons it now possesses back in November of 2012, before the group even officially came into existence. Then fighting under the Nusra Front, Islamic extremists seized the Regiment 111 base near the Syrian town of Darat Izza. The Regiment had successfully repelled numerous attacks from extremist fighters, but harsh winter conditions reduced air support, and the sprawling base was hard to defend.

At the time, the Islamic fighters didn’t know that the base was storing a cache of chemical weapons. After the militants overran Regiment 111, they found barrels filled with sarin gas, chlorine, and mustard gas. These chemicals have since been used to make chemical weapons, and have allegedly been used in numerous attacks against the Syrian Army and other targets.

Now, with the battle for Mosul reaching full intensity, Iraqi army commanders are worried that chemical weapons could be used against them. So far, more than one third of the instances of chemical weapons use occurred in Mosul. It is also believed that many of the Islamic State’s remaining chemical weapons are stockpiled in the city.

Civilians At Risk In Mosul

The Islamic State isn’t going to give up Mosul without a fierce fight. Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city, and it is believed that more than a million people still reside in it. The city is also the Islamic State’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq, and should it lose the city, the group will likely be pushed out of the country completely.

With the Syrian government gaining strength in Syria, and Trump promising to make defeating the Islamic State a priority, the Islamic State may grow more desperate and thus more willing to use chemical weapons. This is especially true in Mosul, were a defeat would be an immense blow to the Islamic State.

Most analysts are expecting the Islamic State to dig in as the Iraqi army advances. If the Islamic State deploys chemical weapons, as expected, many civilians could be killed. Chemical weapons are far from precise and can quickly and easily poison nearby civilian populations. Military officials are conscious of these risks, but there seems to be few ways to prevent the militants from using chemical weapons.

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