U.S. Investigating Possible ISIS Chemical Weapon Use in Battle

The U.S. is investigating reports that Islamic State militants used chemical weapons in a battle with Kurdish fighters, a White House spokesman said.

Kurdish officials said Thursday that Islamic State fighters attacked their forces, known as Peshmerga, near the town of Makhmour in northern Iraq, according to the Associated Press. The German Defense Ministry, which has been training Kurdish forces in the area, said about 60 Kurdish fighters suffered breathing difficulties from the attack, a sign of chemical weapons use, the AP said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Islamic State is suspected of using mustard gas against the Kurds, citing unidentified U.S. officials.

“We are aware of the reports and are seeking additional information,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, said in an e-mail. “Any use of chemicals or biological material as a weapon is completely inconsistent with international standards and norms regarding such capabilities.”

If confirmed, Islamic State’s use of chemical weapons represents a significant escalation in its fight to claim and retain territory in Syria and Iraq.

The regime of Bashar Assad in Syria had stockpiles of chemical weapons that were supposed to be tallied and destroyed under an agreement with Russia and the U.S. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported in October 2014 that almost 98 percent of the chemical weapons in Syria had been removed and destroyed.

Bombing Campaign

The U.S. has been waging a bombing campaign against the militants for more than a year, after Islamic State beheaded American captives and captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. In May, the militants captured Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in Iraq, and Palmyra in Syria.

U.S. jets began flying sorties against Islamic State this week from Turkey’s Incirlik air base. Turkey agreed to allow U.S. use of the base in July, after months of wrangling between the two NATO allies over strategy against Islamic State.

Islamic State’s battlefield success has become an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. Republican candidates have blamed Obama for the group’s rise and say they would mount a more robust fight against the militants.

At least one Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has said he would send American soldiers to Iraq and Syria to fight the group.

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