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CBN on the Frontlines: ISIS Launches Gas Attack in Iraq

02-26-2016
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SINJAR, Northern Iraq -- The Iraqi Kurds have been fighting for almost two years to push the Islamic State out of northern Iraq. Recently they retook the city of Sinjar near the Syrian border in a bid to cut off ISIS supply lines to Mosul

But ISIS is fighting back, launching a chemical weapons attack against the Kurdish Peshmerga.

On Thursday, the jihadist army fired 19 chemical rockets into the front-line positions of Sinjar. Over 100 people - mostly Peshmerga - were sickened.

"This is why we can not come back," one man said. "ISIS is still close enough to kill us in many ways. And now they are using chemical weapons. Please help us push them back far away, please stop them."


Eliya, Karen FBR Medic helps Kurdish chemical casualty in Sinjar, Feb. 25. Chuck Holton, CBN News.

When the Islamic State pushed into northern Iraq in 2014, most of the ethnic Yazidi residents of the area were forced to flee. In November 2015, Kurdish Peshmerga forces were able to recapture a portion of what they'd lost, including Sinjar, a city that was once home to half a million people.

But the fight rages on. The Peshmerga may have driven their enemy out of Sinjar, but ISIS isn't giving up so easily. On the new front line, Peshmerga soldiers are living under daily low-grade attacks by snipers and indirect fire.

CBN News Military Correspondent Chuck Holton was recently in northern Iraq on the front lines of the fighting. From a Peshmerga bunker, Holton said, "It's about 8:30 in the morning, it's a beautiful morning. And ISIS has been shooting at us all morning."

Mortar Shells and Mustard Gas

Holton said it was just sporadic fire, mortar rounds being fired in their general direction and landing in the center of the city. He said when a mortar is fired, they've got about 15 seconds before finding out where it's going to land.


Hole in the roof of a home in Sinjar where one of the rockets landed. Feb. 25. Chuck Holton, CBN News.

"It's kind of a scary feeling because you don't have any control over where they are going to land," he said. "And if they land right here, it's game over."

The Kurdish soldiers who are holding the front line have to put up with this constantly. It's not really intense fighting, Holton said. It's just very low-grade fighting most of the time.

Holton went to northern Iraq to see evidence of an attack ISIS made recently employing chemical weapons, a form of warfare that most nations have deemed illegal for more than 100 years.

He and his team traveled to a field just outside the village where the front line is today and were careful to stay upwind from the site of the attack.

On Feb. 11, ISIS fired more than 30 mortar shells into a village now being held by Kurdish forces. The shells didn't explode like normal mortar shells would. Instead they released a white gas.

Holton visited the area a week after the attack.

"Even right now there is a very pungent odor of rotten vegetables. That's indicative of a mustard agent," Holton said.


Rocket that went thru the roof of the home, Feb. 25. Chuck Holton, CBN News.

He pointed out some residue here from the explosion, showing a black tar substance on it. Although it's not known what the substance was, the Kurds covered up the craters made by the mortars because whatever was in the mortars was still highly toxic a week later and therefore very dangerous.

Treating Sickened Soldiers

Dave Eubanks is the founder of Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian group that was in northern Iraq providing medical training to the Peshmerga at the time of the attack.

"We heard about it, we came here. What we saw were shell craters with black tar all around them -- and stinking and reeking -- so you try to stay upwind of them," he said.


Chemical casualty from Feb. 11 attack. Chuck Holton, CBN News.

"We began to talk to some of the patients who had a hard time breathing; they were constricted in their throats, their noses were burning," Eubanks said. "Thirty people [got] sick right away, now over 175 people have been sickened."

Dr. Abdul Wahab is a Peshmerga surgeon who treated the victims in a tiny Peshmerga aid station. He said he treated victims of the chemical attack for fever, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, and upper respiratory problems.

Wahab has taken samples of the residue from the mortar rounds that came in and is waiting for somebody to come and test them.

Nobody has come and they are baffled by that, wondering why nobody really cares to come and find out what kind of chemical was used in the attack.

ISIS Making Chemical Weapons?

Shortly after leaving the clinic, one of the soldiers injured in the attack showed up asking for help from Eubanks' medical team. But as they began treating him, he passed out.

Eubanks and his team rushed the soldier to the clinic, where the doctor did his best to treat him. But his condition did not improve, so he was sent by ambulance to the nearest hospital, more than two hours away.

As the ambulance was leaving, ISIS began shelling again, and everyone headed for a bunker.


One of 19 Rockets fired into Sinjar by ISIS, Feb. 25. Chuck Holton, CBN News.

As the fight dragged on, someone called an airstrike, while the Kurds fought back with their own weapons.

As for the chemical used by ISIS, no one is sure where it came from. The CIA says ISIS may have the ability to manufacture these agents in small quantities.

Now the biggest concern is that ISIS could find a way to transfer these weapons into Europe or even the United States. But for now, the Kurds are doing their best to keep ISIS occupied.

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