The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) provides Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with military training such as shooting, movement, communications, and mission planning, as well as employment of various weapons systems against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Photo: CANSOFCOM, DND
October 9, 2015 by David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
A number of Iraqi Kurdish troops tested positive for exposure to mustard gas after battles this summer with the Islamic State group in northern Iraq, according to a Kurdish spokesman.
Blood samples from the Kurdish peshmerga fighters sent to a Baghdad lab revealed traces of mustard gas, the spokesman, Jabar Yawar told The Associated Press. The exposure took place during the battles along the front lines near the northern Iraqi towns of Makhmour and Gwer, he added.
Canada’s Department of National Defence, however, said there has not been a need to test Canadian special forces personnel operating with the peshmerga.
“Due to a number of factors including, personnel protection measures, training and proximity to the supposed area of impact, no formalized testing has been conducted of Canadian SOF Task Force personnel, as it was not deemed necessary,” Department of National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier explained to Defence Watch.
“As is standard practice, CANSOFCOM has conducted risk assessments of all possible threats against our task force personnel in Iraq and does understand that the potential exists for our members to come in contact with biological and chemical agents in the conduct of their advise and assist mandate,” he added. “As such, all CANSOF Task Force members have the appropriate training and protective equipment to safeguard against such scenarios.”
Hazhar Ismail, director of co-ordination and public relations for the Peshmerga Ministry in Irbil said at least 35 peshmerga soldiers tested positive for traces of mustard gas.
The Islamic State militants fired some 50 mortar rounds on Iraqi- Kurdish positions on Aug. 11. At least 37 of them exploded, releasing white smoke and a black liquid.
Yawar said forces from the U.S.-led coalition also took blood and soil samples and those also tested positive.
However, according to Army Col. Steven Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, “the field test was not conclusive.” He added that “testing will be done off-site in a gold-standard laboratory.”
“We continue to monitor reports of chemical weapon use closely and stress that any use of chemicals or biological material as a weapon would be further evidence of ISIL’s barbarity,” Warren added, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.