Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Islamic State and Chemical Warfare: Old News

Summary: On 25 February 2016, photos surfaced online of rocket debris from a suspected chemical attack on the Sinjar province of Iraq. The attack was most likely carried out by Islamic State (IS) militants with chlorine-filled rockets. Though the use of chemical weapons is always cause for concern, it is neither new nor indicative of any increased threat in the Iraq/Syria conflict.

Rocket debris photographed in Sinjar (via Twitter, Matthew__Barber)
Weapon Analysis: The rocket’s characteristics are quite similar to that of the Qassam-1 rocket, most commonly found in the hands of HAMAS militants in the Gaza Strip. Overall, Qassam rockets are very low-tech, and it’s likely that militant groups in Iraq/Syria, including IS, could manufacture their own versions of the rocket. The payload is small, but capable of incorporating chemical agents such as chlorine. Chlorine can produce a choking sensation when inhaled, but quickly dissipates in open air and is rarely lethal. Furthermore, chlorine is already in use by IS in Iraq/Syria.

Additional Info on the Qassam-1:

Weight: 22 lbs (10 kg)
Length: 4-8 ft (1-3 m)
Effective Range: 2-8 miles (4-13 km)

Qassam rocket debris in Sderot, Israel; note similarity to previous photo (Source)
Final Assessment: Chemical attacks are likely to remain sporadic at best in Iraq/Syria. These attacks are more psychological than harmful due to the limited concentration of chemicals that can be stored in small-scale rockets and IEDs. Furthermore, chlorine is likely to remain the primary agent used in chemical attacks due to it's ready availability in most countries. 

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