GWER , Iraq, April 22 (UPI) -- Kurdish Peshmerga positions in northern Iraq were again hit with chemical weapons by the Islamic State, several commanding officers said.
An unidentified Peshmerga commander said IS attacked the Kurdish troops, fighting to control the town of Gwer, with rockets containing mustard gas in an attack this week. Col. Srud al-Bazanji, Peshmerga chief of staff for the area that was struck, referred to the chemical as chlorine gas. Both are banned for use in war by international treaties, and while neither is considered an effective tactical weapon, they have a potent psychological effect.
"Normal weapons are better at causing death and injury but if you think chemical weapons are being used you are more afraid," Col Bazanji said, adding IS has used chemical weapons in the area at least 10 times in the past six weeks. Eight Peshmerga soldiers showed symptoms of assault by chemical warfare, in choking and shortness of breath.
Bazanji noted the chemical assault was likely a warning that IS, which has seized large stocks of industrial chlorine and is believed to have the capability of weapons manufacture, is prepared to defend Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and the biggest city occupied by insurgent forces. A long-planned campaign to rid Mosul of IS forces is expected to begin soon, and the Peshmerga troops' offensive to capture roadways leading to the city is slowly making progress.
The timetable for attacking Mosul remains fluid. President Barack Obama said in an interview this week that Mosul will be re-taken by the end of 2016. Other officials predict the final push for Mosul will occur in early 2017.
After complaints their weapons have been inadequate to fight IS forces, the Peshmerga forces have been armed with armored personnel carriers, mortars and anti-tank weapons by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. "We have decided to give them about two U.S. Army brigades-worth of equipment -- heavier stuff," Brig. Gen. John E. Novalis II, who is overseeing coalition training of Iraqi security forces, told Stars and Stripes earlier in April.
The United States also announced it will increase troop numbers in Iraq, send AH-64 Apache helicopters and helping fund the Kurdish Peshmerga with up to $415 million to help retake Mosul.