Iraqi forces have said they have discovered a mustard chemical warfare agent in eastern Mosul alongside a cache of Russian surface-to-surface missiles.
Iraqi and US officials have repeatedly warned of efforts by Isis to develop chemical weapons. When Iraqi forces retook Mosul University this month, they found chemistry labs they believed had been converted into makeshift weapons labs.
Iraqi forces showed journalists a tank of the chemical agent and a warehouse of more than a dozen surface-to-surface rockets bearing Russian inscriptions.
Brigadier General Haider Fadhil from Iraqi special forces said French officials tested the chemical this week and confirmed it was a mustard agent. “We know that they were using this place to experiment with chemical weapons,” he said, referring to Isis.
Fadhil did not specify the quantity or potency of the chemical, but Iraqi soldiers were able to visit the site for about 10 minutes without exhibiting symptoms of exposure.
Fadhil said he believed the facility was set up in the Nineveh ruins, an ancient site away from the city’s dense neighborhoods, to keep it a secret from Mosul residents who might be passing information to Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition.
The number of casualties due to Isis chemical weapons is a small fraction compared with the hundreds of civilians killed in car and suicide bombings carried out by the group. Experts say that is largely due to the low grade of the weapons and the group’s lack of access to efficient delivery systems.
The types of rockets found at the site suggest Isis was attempting to weaponize the chemical agent, Fadhil said. He added that he believed the facility was being used up until just one or two weeks ago.
Iraqi forces declared Mosul’s eastern half fully liberated, just over three months after the operation to retake the city from Isis was formally launched in October.