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14 Mar, 2015 22:47

Iraqi Kurds: 'Desperate' ISIS using suicide bombers laden with chemical weapons

Iraqi Kurds: 'Desperate' ISIS using suicide bombers laden with chemical weapons

The Kurdish Regional Government says its peshmerga fighters came under attack from an Islamic State (formerly ISIS) suicide bomber driving a truck filled with toxic chlorine gas, in the latest chemical weapons accusation against the jihadist group.

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“The fact ISIS relies on such tactics demonstrates it has lost the initiative and is resorting to desperate measures,” the Kurdish authority declared in a statement.

While footage of the attack emerged only recently, the attack took place on January 23, when Kurdish fighters tried to reinforce their positions on a highway between Mosul and the Syrian border. The Kurds have been in an all-out war against the Islamic State since last year.

The video provided by Kurdish authorities shows an attacker driving a truck at full speed into the Kurdish positions, as he comes under heavy fire. Authorities say their forces destroyed the truck with a rocket before it had a chance to detonate near soldiers. But the fighters then began experiencing “nausea, vomiting, dizziness and weakness” – all common symptoms of chlorine poisoning – and soon found “20 empty canisters” in the back of the vehicle.

The Kurds said they sent the remains of the suicide bomber to a laboratory, which said “the samples contained levels of chlorine that suggested the substance was used in weaponized form.”

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Chlorine, a widely available household and industrial substance, was most famously used in warfare during World War I, and is on the banned list of chemicals under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

But the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the chemical weapons watchdog, says it is not aware of the incident.

“We have not had a request from Iraq to investigate claims of use of chemical weapons in Iraq, and the OPCW cannot immediately verify the claims,” it said in a statement.

The OPCW conducted a fact-finding mission in neighboring Syria last year, where ISIS is also a major force fighting against the government of Bashar Assad. Afterwards, it concluded that chlorine was used “systematically and repeatedly” in that conflict.

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There were also allegations of ISIS chlorine attacks in Iraq, made by government officials last September, and Kurdish authorities say they have seen “plumes of orange smoke” during recent battles in Tikrit.

The US says it killed the jihadists’ main chemical weapon maker, Abu Malik, on January 24, also near Mosul. Meanwhile, OPCW officials told Reuters that the Islamic State unsuccessfully attempted to recruit chemical experts in the large city after conquering it last year.

ISIS's plans to establish a caliphate stretching through the Middle East appear to have been reversed, partly due to better-organized resistance from the Kurds and the Iraqi army, and also due to airstrikes unleashed by the US and its allies. The Pentagon says it has killed 8,000 ISIS fighters in 2,800 strikes since September last year.