Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Confirmed. ISIS has used mustard gas in Iraq. BBC

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in Iraq. BBC/Getty.

Experts have confirmed what has been suspected since last summer; ISIS has used chemical weapons in Iraq. BBC. The confirmation relates to an incident in Irbil, Iraq on August 11th, 2015, where 35 Peshmerga fighters became ill. The chemical used has been confirmed to be sulfur mustard gas, a chemical agent known for its deadliness. The report, from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did not cast blame for the attack but other sources confirm that the attack was conducted by ISIS. The attack occurred on the front lines and several shells landed near the Peshmerga fighters releasing white dust and black liquid. This incident is not the first time ISIS has used chemical weapons. Also last year, they used mustard gas in an attack against Kurds in Syria. This attack in Iraq is the first in that country committed by ISIS. It is unclear where ISIS obtained chemical weapons. They may have been captured from the Syrian government's stockpiles of weapons before they were destroyed in 2013. However, US government officials have admitted at the very least, ISIS has the chemicals and capability to produce mustard and chlorine gas. 

My Comment:
I can finally finish this post! I tried to do it last night but my cable and internet both went out so I couldn't! That's just the way it goes I guess. It was kind of an older story last night, but it's practically ancient now. Might as well finish it though...

As for the actual story itself, this news isn't all that surprising. There were a couple of attacks last summer involving chemical weapons. ISIS has used both mustard gas and chlorine as a weapon multiple times now but apparently this is the first time they have used it in Iraq. This story isn't all that notable because it is new, but because I think it is important to remind people that ISIS has access to chemical weapons.

That news has not made anywhere near the splash I would have thought it should have. In the 2016 election cycle, nobody that I am aware of has made a political point out of the fact that ISIS has chemical weapons. That just seems baffling to me since any candidate that is running on a platform of national defense would bring this up as it is a major terrorist threat, a war crime and a huge step up in terms of what ISIS is capable. But there has been next to nothing said about it in any of the debates that I have watched. Perhaps after the Iraq War, the threat of WMD's is no longer considered a plausible reason to vote for someone. After all, the Republican Party got burned and burned hard by the fact that no active chemical or biological weapons program was found in Iraq (some old weapons were found, but they weren't the threat they were made out to be). If we were to use these ISIS chemical weapons as a causus belli for a major war with ISIS, it could turn into Iraq 2.0 if we didn't find a major threat.

And it is hard to ascertain how much of a threat this is, at least with what has been released to the public. After the initial attacks happened last summer there haven't been any more reports that I have seen of ISIS using these weapons. Just a few scattered attacks in the summer and nothing much since then. Which raises an obvious question. Why on earth aren't ISIS using these chemical weapons more? I think there are a few possible reasons for that.

1. ISIS ran out of the precursor chemicals needed to make these weapons. They have already used up all that they had and can't get any more. I think this fairly unlikely because the precursor chemicals are fairly easy to find and the main problem isn't gathering the chemicals, it's finding someone who knows what they are doing. Which brings us to..

2. ISIS's experts on chemical weapons, or the labs needed to make them, have been destroyed. This is much more likely because any chemical weapons experts or facilities would be a priority target for pretty much every single other faction involved in the fighting in both Syria and Iraq. Nobody wants to go against chemical weapons, so there is a huge motivating factor in finding the people responsible for making these weapons and destroying them. Why don't we know about it then? Well it's possible that it's classified. If it was a commando raid it might not have ever made the headlines. The other possibility is that these chemists and labs were destroyed just during the normal course of the war. Many ISIS fighters and leaders have died due to the bombing campaigns conducted by United States and their allies as well as the strikes carried out by the Russian and Syrian coalition. There is a decent chance that whoever made these chemical weapons is no longer among the living through shear bad luck alone.

3. ISIS is saving those chemical weapons for something. This is the most scary option. If ISIS were to perfect their chemical weapons they could be used as a potent weapon, both on offense and defense. Though chemical weapons are by their very nature extremely hazardous on the battlefield for anyone who deploys it, they do serve as a very strong terror weapon. Nobody who knows anything about mustard gas ever wants to be exposed to it and if I was a soldier fighting ISIS I know I wouldn't want to have to worry about getting gassed. The other option is they are building up their supplies for a major terrorist attack abroad. It wouldn't be too difficult for ISIS to smuggle in enough chemical weapons for a major attack in Europe, especially as spring begins and the migrant horde begins to come in greater numbers again. I would not be surprised if the next major attempted terrorist attack, successful or otherwise, in Europe is a chemical one.

Of the two scenarios I deem credible, it is very hard to figure out which one is more plausible. Either ISIS's chemical weapons department was blown to smithereens or they are planning something big with these weapons. I can't imagine that they would go through all the trouble of developing and deploying these weapons only to not use them just a few months after they learned how to make them. Perhaps there is some other factor that I am missing, but in my mind the threat of more chemical attacks by ISIS is either worse then ever or largely non-existent. That sounds like I am hedging my bets but I honestly am not sure what will happen. 

Needless to say, I hope it's option number two above. I really don't want to see a chemical weapons attack in Europe. The damage it would cause would be fairly negligible in comparison to other major terrorist attacks, but the psychological damage it would cause would be severe. People are very afraid of chemical weapon attacks (and would be even more so after seeing images of the victims) and a successful chemical attack on a major European city would cause widespread panic. On the other hand, such an attack would require a massive response. Perhaps that would finally be the line that would encourage the world to utterly destroy ISIS once and for all... 

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