Iraq's Kurdish authorities say they have evidence "Islamic State" has used chlorine gas as a weapon against Kurdish fighters. The accusation comes as Iraqi soldiers attempt to drive the militants out of Tikrit.
The Security Council of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region said in a statement on Saturday it had found traces of chlorine gas on samples taken from the site of a suicide truck bombing in northern Iraq.
The alleged attack on Kurdish Peshmerga fighters by "Islamic State" (IS) militants took place on January 23, along a highway between Iraq's largest city, Mosul, and the Syrian border.
According to the council's statement, which was posted on Twitter, soil and clothing samples were sent to a lab in a "partner nation" from the US-led coalition fighting IS militants in the region.
"The analysis, which was carried out at an EU certified laboratory, found the samples contained levels of chlorine that suggested the substance was used in weaponized form," the statement read. The council did not identify the laboratory, and its allegations have not yet been independently verified.
'Deeply disturbing' claims
A spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, Alistair Baskey, said US authorities were aware of the claim but had no information as to its veracity.
"We find such allegations deeply disturbing, and if there are parties engaged in such use, they should be held appropriately accountable," Baskey said.
According to a Kurdish security source, a number of Peshmerga fighters at the scene of the suicide blast had suffered nausea, dizziness or vomiting.
They also found "around 20 gas canisters" that had been loaded onto the truck involved in the attack, the council said.
Chlorine is a toxic choking agent which first emerged as a weapon at Ypres during World War I. Its use on the battlefield is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.
Major assault in Tikrit
For some time there have been fears that IS was using chemical agents in Iraq and Syria, where it now controls a significant amount of territory. The terror group is seeking to establish an Islamic "caliphate" across the entire Middle East, but has suffered some losses in both Iraq and Syria in recent weeks.
On Saturday, Iraqi troops - including the military, police, Shiite militias and Sunni tribesmen - continued their offensive to retake the central city of Tikrit from IS militants.
Tikrit is the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein and is situated between Baghdad and Mosul. Seizing control of the strategic city could potentially create an opportunity for Iraqi forces to recapture Mosul, which is also in the hands of the jihadis.
nm/sb (Reuters, AP, dpa)