Twelve people, including a 2-month-old baby, from the embattled city of Mosul have been treated for suspected exposure to a blistering chemical agent, medics said Saturday, as Islamic State militants strike back at government-held neighborhoods while trying to hold off advancing government forces.
The patients, who were being treated in a hospital in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, displayed symptoms of a chemical attack, including blisters, burns, respiratory problems, irritation to the eyes and vomiting. They described three separate attacks with rockets carrying gas over the past week on neighborhoods in eastern Mosul recaptured by government forces.
“There was a hiss of gas, and then we were suffocating,” said Zeina Fawzi, who was sitting in the kitchen with her husband when a rocket exploded outside the door. She and her husband said it dispersed black oily droplets through the air, covering the kitchen walls. She pulled down her dress to reveal a blister on her shoulder.
The militants, who still control much of the western side of the city, have regularly bombarded the east side with mortars and rockets, causing misery for civilians living there. More than 1 million civilians were still in the city when the offensive to retake it began nearly five months ago.
The use of a “blistering chemical agent” in a densely populated city is “completely unacceptable” and constitutes a war crime, said Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. She said tests are being conducted to determine the nature of the agent.
Some of the victims were told that it was probably mustard gas, which was used on the battlefield for the first time during World War I.