ISIS Use of Chemical Weapons

This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Islamic State is suspected of using mustard gas against the Peshmerga in northern Iraq on Wednesday. The attack occurred southwest of Erbil with Peshmerga fighters reporting injuries that are consistent with a chemical attack, likely a mustard agent. This week’s attack on the Peshmerga is the first documented use of mustard by ISIS fighters. The Wall Street Journal reports that ISIS may have obtained this mustard agent, along with chlorine gas from Saddam Hussein-era stockpiles in Iraq or from stockpiles that Bashar al-Assad failed to destroy in Syria.

It is likely that in the coming months there will be more chemical attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as part of their propaganda campaign. The use of these weapons will inspire fear into groups fighting ISIS. Similar to the use of propaganda videos featuring violent executions, ISIS may begin to produce videos showing the effects of chemical attacks. Although video showing an actual attack would provide greater propaganda value, ISIS would need to embed one of their own near the focus of the attack in order to gain such footage. Therefore, in the coming months only videos of the after effects will likely appear.

The purpose of ISIS videoing the after effects of chemical attacks would be similar to that of violent executions: in order to mobilize new recruits. Defense One provides a good analysis of how violent execution videos were used by ISIS to attract new members. Likewise, videos of chemical attacks could also be used to attract new members while simultaneously spreading fear into groups fighting ISIS.

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