Over 1,000 people have been treated for breathing issues arising out of the toxic fumes from a sulphur plant set ablaze by the Islamic State fighters in Mosul. IS fighters burnt the Mishraq sulphur mine resulting in release of large amounts of poisonous gas into the atmosphere killing two civilians. Speaking to AFP, Iraqi General Qusay Hamid Kadhem said, “Daesh blew up the sulphur plant two days ago and that has led to the deaths of two people among the civilians in nearby villages.” US troops in the area had to wear gas masks in order to protect themselves.
Almost 1,000 people have been admitted to the nearby Qayyara central hospital with respiratory issues since Friday. Speaking to Reuters, hospital director Abdul Salam Jabbouri said, “We have had every type of person come in with breathing problems and burning eyes – children, adults, policemen, soldiers. Daesh set the sulphur on fire so nobody can come near them.”
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Reports also stated that the air in the area has turned into a greyish color as it mixed with smoke from earlier oil well fires set by the militants. Residents complained of coughing, headaches and nosebleeds from as far as 30 kilometers away. According to two US military officials, the fire was set two days ago. However on Saturday, as the winds shifted, the smoke drifted south toward Qayara West air field, which has been a staging area for the Mosul offensive.
According to the Iraqi forces, the fire would take another two or three days to be extinguished. Operation Inherent Resolve, the official name of the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition, said it had provided more than 24,000 protective chemical masks to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces during training for the Mosul offensive.
The Iraqi forces have launched an offensive to drive the Islamic State out of Mosul. The IS fighters have used oil fires, armor-plated car bombs and exploding drones to slow the march of Iraqi forces towards the city. On Friday, dozens of IS fighters had staged a raid on government buildings and police positions in Kirkuk. Though the attack was largely contained by Saturday, at least 80 people, mainly Kurdish soldiers, had been killed during the incursion.