Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State (Isis) jihadists in northern Iraq have reported being attacked with chemical weapons,the German defence ministry said on Thursday.
The allegations, deemed “plausible” by a US official, follow claims in March by the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq which said it had evidence that the jihadist group used chlorine in a car bomb attack on January 23rd.
“We have indications that there was an attack with chemical weapons” against the Peshmerga fighters that left many suffering from “respiratory irritation,” a ministry spokesman told AFP.
A senior official from the peshmerga told AFP the attack happened on Tuesday and wounded several dozen fighters.
The Wall Street Journal cited US officials as saying they believe the attack used mustard gas, which may have come from stockpiles of banned poisonsthat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was forced to get rid of in 2013.
But the peshmerga official, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested the attack used chlorine and did not mention mustard gas.
“Last Tuesday afternoon, Peshmerga forces in the Makhmur area 50 kilometres west of the city of Arbil were attacked with Katyusha rockets filled with chlorine,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The defence ministry in Germany, which is providing arms and weapons training to the Kurdish forces, said that “American and Iraqi specialists from Baghdad are on their way to find out what happened”.
A ministry spokesman had said earlier “there was a chemical weapons attack” near Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.
A second ministry spokesman later stressed that German forces were not present during the attack, but that “we have indications that there was an attack with chemical weapons”.
Germany has been supporting the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters since September to back their push against Isis jihadists, and currently has about 90 personnel on the ground.
“German soldiers were not affected or in danger” during the reported attack, the spokesman said. “The protection of our soldiers in northern Iraq is already at the highest level.”
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said claims Isis had used chemical weapons on the Kurds were “plausible”.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, said it was “seeking additional information” about the alleged attack.
“We continue to take these and all allegations of chemical weapons use very seriously,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis.
Isis has previously been accused of using chlorine against Kurdish forces in Iraq.
In March, the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq said it had evidence that the jihadist group used chlorine in a car bomb attack on January 23rd.
Last month, the Conflict Armament Research group and Sahan Research group said Isis had also targeted Peshmerga with a projectile filled with an unknown chemical agent on June 21st or 22nd.
The chemical used had characteristics and clinical effects “consistent with a chlorine chemical agent,” the groups said.
The organisations said they had also documented two such attacks against Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on June 28th.
It said that upon impact, the projectiles had released a yellow gas “with a strong smell of rotten onions”.
There were no deaths but troops exposed to it had experienced burning of the throat, eyes and nose, severe headaches, muscle pain, impaired concentration and mobility, and vomiting.
“Although these chemical attacks appear to be test cases, we expect IS construction skills to advance rapidly as they have for other IEDS (improvised explosive devices),” said Emmanuel Deisser, managing director at Sahan Research, at the time.