The ongoing offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State has raised questions over the Islamic State’s Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) capabilities and the potential for chemical weapons attacks featuring in the group’s defence of the city.
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Use of chemical weapons around Mosul by Islamic State (Graphic: Business Wire)
The Islamic State used chemical weapons on at least 52 occasions since 2014 in Iraq and Syria and at least 19 times in the areas around Mosul, according to data collected by IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.
“As the Islamic State loses ground around Mosul, there is a high risk of the group using chemical weapons to slow down and demoralise advancing enemy forces, and to potentially make an example of -- and take revenge on -- civilian dissidents within the city,” said Columb Strack, senior analyst and head of the IHS Conflict Monitor.
IHS Conflict Monitor assesses that the most likely CBR threat emanating from Mosul is posed by the use of chlorine and mustard agents, and to a much lesser extent, the use of a radiological dispersal device (RDD), or ‘dirty bomb,’ by which radiological materials are scattered using conventional explosives.
“Medical and industrial sources of radioactive material are present within territory held by the Islamic State, for example, at the Hazim al-Hafid Hospital, a specialist oncology and nuclear medicine facility in Mosul,” said Karl Dewey, CBR analyst at IHS Jane’s. In July 2014, the Islamic State also acquired approximately 40 kilograms of low-grade nuclear material from the University of Mosul. “Although the uranium compounds would only be of very limited utility for RDD fabrication, comments made by Islamic State supporters suggest that members have at least thought about the idea,” Dewey said.
Data captured by IHS Conflict Monitor showed a decline in Islamic State chemical weapon attacks prior to the offensive. “Mosul was at the centre of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons production,” Strack said. “But most of the equipment and experts were probably evacuated to Syria in the weeks and months leading up to the Mosul offensive, along with convoys of other senior members and their families.”
Re-capture of Mosul would be symbolic and financial loss to Islamic State
“The eventual loss of the city will have a significant financial impact on the Islamic State, not to mention the huge symbolism of losing Mosul,” Strack said. “The group will lose access to tax and other revenues generated from the remaining population of around 1 million people, the largest city they have captured. This type of income has been more significant than oil for the Islamic State’s revenue.”
However, Mosul remains far less significant for the Islamic State strategically than areas it still controls in eastern Syria – the core of the Caliphate along the Euphrates river and its capital Raqqa. “As we enter 2017, the Islamic State’s governance project is likely to be gradually pushed back into eastern Syria, where it will concentrate its forces in the Euphrates river valley between Raqqa and the Iraqi border at al-Qaim,” Strack said.
About the IHS Conflict Monitor
The IHS Conflict Monitor is an open-source intelligence collection and analysis service, which includes unrivalled data coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, weekly control maps, as well as in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis by IHS Jane’s security experts.
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