SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq, Oct 8, (Agencies): Blood tests show the Islamic State used mustard agent in an attack on Kurdish peshmerga forces in August, the autonomous Iraqi region’s government said Thursday. “The results of the tests on blood samples from 35 Kurdish fighters reveal traces of mustard gas,” the peshmerga ministry said. “During the attack on Gweyr and Makhmur, Daesh (IS) launched around 50 mortar rounds,” a statement said, referring to two frontline towns southwest of the regional capital of Arbil. The ministry said 37 of them released white dust and black liquid when they exploded.
Thirty-five peshmerga fighters were exposed and some taken abroad for treatment. The Kurdish authorities did not say how seriously the affected peshmerga were wounded in the Aug 11 attack. The ministry urged all countries battling the jihadist group to provide the peshmerga with anti-chemical gear.
At the time of the attack, the Wall Street Journal cited US officials as saying they believed IS had used mustard agent. At that point, the peshmerga only spoken of the possible use of chlorine and minimised the incident.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State group executed 70 members of a Sunni tribe allied to the government in western Iraq earlier this week, a tribal leader and the United Nations said Wednesday. The victims, members of the Albu Nimr tribe, were executed on Sunday in the Tharthar area north of Ramadi, the capital of the western Anbar province, tribal elder Naim Gaoud told AFP. “These people who were executed were the fathers and brothers of members of the police, the army… and of tribal fighters who are battling Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS. “Daesh executed them by shooting,” he said.
Iraqi security forces, backed by US-led coalition air strikes, launched a vast operation west of Ramadi Sunday to tighten the noose on IS, which captured the Anbar capital in May and controls most of the province. The Islamic State militant group has overtaken al-Qaeda as leader of the global violent extremist movement and has access to a large pool of potential recruits in Western countries, US national counterterrorism center chief Nick Rasmussen said on Thursday.
In congressional testimony, Rasmussen also said counterterrorism experts still regard al Qaeda’s Yemenbased affiliate AQAP as big threat due to its interest in attacking the United States and airplanes. In addition, FBI chief James Comey said US investigators are aware of dozens of US-based Islamic militant suspects who now are using encrypted communications. The United States and its allies launched 18 air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq on Wednesday and two air strikes targeting the militant group in Syria, the task force leading the operations said.
The strikes in Iraq were focused near six cities: Bayji, Kirkuk, Mosul, Ramadi, Sinjar and Sultan Abdalla, the US-led task force said in a statement released on Thursday. In Syria, the two strikes hit Islamic State oil collection targets near Al Hawl, it said. Italy is considering playing a more active role in Iraq combating the Islamic State group but no decision has been made.
Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti stressed at a news conference Wednesday with her US counterpart, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, that Italy is not considering any role in Syria since the Damascus government hasn’t asked for assistance. Italy has provided Tornado jets for reconaissance missions, weapons for Kurdish fighters and training units. Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported Tuesday that Italy was preparing to use its Tornados for airstrikes. Pinotti said: “As far as further commitments by Italy on different issues, we are assessing the situation. And no decision will be taken without parliamentary approval.”