Red line? ISIS used chemical weapons against Iraqi army

What happens when terrorists get their hands on weapons of mass destruction? They will use them, and that also includes marauding armies of terrorists like ISIS. Despite the risks associated with using old chemical ordnance, risks that the West hoped would dissuade ISIS from making use of battlefield discoveries of old stock, the Washington Post reports confirmation that the terrorist army has deployed chlorine-gas weapons on at least one occasion against the Iraqi army:

Dizzy, vomiting and struggling to breathe, 11 Iraqi police officers were rushed to a government hospital 50 miles north of the capital last month. The diagnosis: poisoning by chlorine gas. The perpetrators, according to the officers: Islamic State extremists.

The chlorine attack appears to be the first confirmed use of chemical weapons by the Islamic State on the battlefield. An Iraqi Defense Ministry official corroborated the events, and doctors said survivors’ symptoms were consistent with chlorine poisoning.

Iraqi forces say two other crude chlorine attacks have occurred since the extremists seized vast tracts of Iraqi territory this summer, but details on those incidents remain sketchy. The reported assaults all raise concerns that the militants are attempting to hone their chemical weapons capabilities as they push to control more ground.

The attack was on September 15th, six weeks ago, but is just being made known now. Even the Russian propaganda outlet RT has picked up this report, although they emphasize that ISIS didn’t make very effective use of the weapons:

A recent statement from the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that the IS had used the gas in a “primitive and ineffective way” – in roadside bomb attacks and near several water treatment plants where it had gained access to chlorine. Without indicating the locations of the attacks, the statement said that the militants aimed at impairing “the morale of the Iraqi people in general and our armed forces in particular.”

American defense officials were not aware of the September 15 chlorine attack and referred to the Iraqi government for further information.

Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the National Security Council, told the New York Times on Thursday,“The use of chlorine as a chemical weapon is an abhorrent act. These recent allegations underscore the importance of our work to eliminate chemical weapons in this volatile region.”

There have lately been several reports of IS militants using chlorine gas on the battlefield, however, none had been officially confirmed. They appeared after the jihadists seized a large former Iraqi chemical weapons production plant this summer, whose 2,500 degraded rockets the Iraqi officials claimed unlikely to be fit for use.

The Daily Caller notes that Barack Obama drew a “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, only to retreat from it later. At the time this video was made, ISIS use of chemical weapons was only rumored:

Now that it has become a reality, the question will be whether this changes the calculus for the US, NATO, and the UN. Russia and China might balk at UN Security Council approval for military action against ISIS under normal circumstances (if such a term could possibly apply in this case), but the use of chemical weapons might make that a very difficult position. If the UN won’t act when WMD is used, especially by non-state actors, then whatever use still remains of the UNSC other than a debating society will have evaporated for good — and what’s more, Russia and China have to know that. The West has already begun acting outside of those confines, for better (operations against ISIS already under way) and worse (Libya).

They could decide to sit back and allow the West and the other Arab nations in the coalition to continue going after ISIS, but there’s a problem with that strategy: it’s not working. ISIS isn’t being destroyed, degraded, shrunk, or even managed at the moment. They have fallen back temporarily in Kobani, but only tactically. They are advancing on Baghdad, continue to sack Yazidi villages and enslave the women, and now they’re aiming to reverse one of their few strategic setbacks this year:

An Islamic State offensive in northern Iraq that began Monday with a series of car bombings on Kurdish military positions has been thwarted thus far by U.S.-led airstrikes outside the critical Mosul Dam area, though the militants were advancing near the Sinjar Mountains, according to Kurdish officials.

A senior Kurdish military official said Thursday that the threat to Mosul Dam had been neutralized for now by U.S.-led air power, which badly hurt Islamic State fighters who had massed for the offensive. The United States conducted 12 airstrikes near Mosul Dam on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Central Command. …

Overnight Wednesday, the Central Command said that it had attacked four Islamic State targets south of the dam, which controls both agricultural water supplies and the electricity supply for Mosul, the city that the Islamic State has held since overrunning much of northern and central Iraq in June. The Islamic State briefly controlled the dam, but a concerted effort by the peshmerga, backed by Iraqi special forces troops and coalition airstrikes, retook the facility in August.

Yawar said that a series of French airstrikes in the area – separate from the American ones – had killed dozens of Islamic State fighters south of the dam.

But the militants overran two lightly defended Yazidi villages on Tuesday, establishing at least a partial encirclement of the large mountain range, which looms over the otherwise flat northern Iraqi desert and serves as the spiritual home to the Yazidi minority.

The airstrikes and limited ground operations of the Peshmerga are not enough to keep ISIS from its expansionist path. With chemical weapons now available, the odds of getting Sunni tribal leaders to join forces against ISIS have probably gone from slim to none. It will take a large ground operation to defeat ISIS, and to prevent the further use of chemical weapons, too. If the Arab nations in the coalition (and the Turks) are not going to provide that, then the West had better come to grips with that reality and either put together that force or wash their hands of the Middle East altogether.