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Investigators to Probe Chemical Weapons Use by IS in Iraq


FILE - A chlorine-tinged cloud of smoke rises into the air from an Islamic State bomb that was detonated by Iraqi army and Shi'ite fighters in the town of al-Alam in Salahuddin province, Iraq, March 10, 2015.

The international group that investigates chemical weapons use is ready to pursue claims that Islamic State fighters used mustard gas against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it is prepared to act as soon as Iraq, a member state, asks for help, a spokesman said Friday.

"We are quite willing to follow up on any substantial claims provided to us," OPCW spokesman Malik Ellahi told VOA.

The extremist group calling itself Islamic State is accused of using mustard gas earlier this week in Makhmour, not far from Irbil. The gas is a known chemical agent banned by international agreements.

German defense officials, who have been training Kurdish forces, said about 60 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were exposed to mustard gas during a battle with IS militants.

The U.S. military is looking into the allegation but has not confirmed the use of chemical weapons, according to Colonel Pat Ryder, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command that overseas the military’s actions in the Middle East.

“At this point, we really don’t know what, if anything, may have been used, so I am not going to speculate on what that is,” Ryder said.

The Syrian Kurdish militia also claims IS militants fired chemical weapons at areas in and around the Syrian city of Hasakah on June 28.

Anti-IS forces retook the town of Hasakah from the militants last week. Ryder said the coalition staged 31 airstrikes in the area to try to destroy enemy fighters, fighting positions and bunkers.

He added that the coalition was unsure whether the Islamic State had used chemical weapons there. But he added that if true, it would be “just another example of the kind of enemy we’re dealing with here.”

Neither Germany nor the United States has presented evidence of chemical weapons use in Iraq to the OPCW. Peshmerga fighters are a key element of the U.S.-led military campaign to oust IS extremists from Iraq and Syria.

White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said Thursday that Washington takes "all allegations of chemical weapons use very seriously."

Reports in the past by U.S. intelligence agencies indicated IS fighters have used toxic chlorine gas as a weapon.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied charges that his country's forces have used chemical weapons during the four-plus years of the Syrian civil war. Syria agreed in 2013 to allow international monitors to destroy its declared chemical weapons stockpile. However, there are suspicions that Damascus continues to use other supplies of chlorine to attack rebels.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

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