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Islamic State’s chemical weapons capability degraded

But group likely retains expertise to produce small batches of sulphur mustard and chlorine agents.

There has been a major reduction in the use of chemical weapons (CW) by the Islamic State in Syria in 2017, and a concentration of CW attacks in Iraq inside the besieged city of Mosul, according to new analysis from Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.

Since the first incident in July 2014, at least 71 allegations of the Islamic State using CW - 41 in Iraq and 30 in Syria - have been recorded by Conflict Monitor. Most of these involved either the use of chlorine or sulphur mustard agents, delivered with mortars, rockets and IEDs. The Islamic State uses chemical weapons mainly for their psychological impact, as their lethality does not exceed the use of conventional weapons.

The only alleged use of CW by the Islamic State in Syria this year was on 8 January 2017 at Talla al-Maqri in Aleppo province. For comparison, there were 13 allegations in the previous six months, concentrated in the same area of Aleppo province. All other recorded allegations of the Islamic State using CW in 2017 have been in Iraq; nine inside the besieged city of Mosul, and another single allegation near al-Atheem in Diyala province.

“The operation to isolate and recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul coincides with a massive reduction in Islamic State chemical weapons use in Syria”, said Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit. “This suggests that the group has not established any further CW production sites outside Mosul, although it is likely that some specialists were evacuated to Syria and retain the expertise.”

Mosul was at the centre of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons production. IHS Markit assesses that the siege of Mosul, and targeted killings of CW experts in US Coalition airstrikes, have significantly degraded the Islamic State’s already low CW production capability. The continuing CW attacks in Mosul most likely draw on remaining stockpiles in the city.

Nevertheless, the Islamic State probably retains the capability to produce small batches of low quality chlorine and sulphur mustard agents elsewhere, for example to enhance the psychological impact of suicide car bombings attacks in urban areas or in terrorist attacks abroad.

About Conflict Monitor

Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit is an open-source intelligence collection and analysis service. It generates unique data-driven insights on the conflict in Iraq and Syria, combining unrivalled information collection with advanced analytical tools, and analysis by Jane’s security experts.

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Columb Strack, Senior Middle East Analyst at IHS Markit
Posted 29 June 2017

About The Author

Mr. Columb Strack is a Senior Analyst with IHS Markit, specializing in Political and Security Risk Forecasting for the Middle East and North Africa. He is the lead developer of the IHS Conflict Monitor, which provides cutting-edge, data-driven conflict analysis for the insurgencies in Syria and Iraq. He oversees the regional OSINT collection team and provides vital information and insights for insurance, corporate security, supply chain energy, NGO and government customers. He has been quoted by the BBC, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg and other respected media. Previously, he worked for specialist intelligence company Exclusive Analysis, and for a Gulf-based strategic think tank. Mr. Strack holds a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, and he studied the Arabic language at universities in Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.