Under a cloud of black smoke, a group of around a dozen children wearing flimsy sandals have gathered to play.
Oil wells around the Iraqi town of Qayyara are still burning, weeks after they were torched by ISIS militants in an attempt to slow the Iraqi army’s advance.
Under the shadow of an oil fire, the children are coated in black soot. “Yes, yes!” they said, coughing, when asked if they were suffering from breathing difficulties because of the smoke.
“We are scared of it, the smoke makes it difficult to breathe,” said a 10-year-old girl caked in dirt.
In Qarraya, a town 60km south of Mosul, ISIS militants launched at least three chemical attacks in September and October after Iraqi forces recaptured the town in August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report last week.
A chemical weapons expert told HRW the attacks caused painful burns to at least seven people, consistent with exposure to low levels of a chemical warfare agent known as “vesicants,” or blister agents.
“ISIS attacks using toxic chemicals show a brutal disregard for human life and the laws of war,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, referring to Islamic State.
“As Daesh fighters flee, they have been repeatedly attacking and endangering the civilians they left behind, increasing concerns for residents of Mosul and other contested areas.”
The United Nations says ISIS is stockpiling ammonia and sulphur in civilian areas and fears it intends to carry out more chemical attacks as Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. air power, battle the militants in an effort to drive them out of Mosul, their last major stronghold in Iraq.
“They closed our schools and taught (our people) how to kill, fight, and sacrifice,” said Anas Mahmood, 21, who refused to join the militant group but missed two years of education while living under ISIS.
In late October, the embattled militants set fire to stocks of sulphur at the Mishraq chemical plant south of Mosul as Iraqi forces advanced, residents said.
The noxious sulphur clouds caused a burning sensation in the throat and sore, red eyes for those living nearby in Qayyara. That fire has now been extinguished, but most of oil fires are still burning, resulting in breathing difficulties, skin problems and misery.
Source: /Gulf Today