ISIS’s Chemical Weapons Capability Degraded, Says IHS Markit

There has been a major reduction in the use of chemical weapons (CW) by the Islamic State (ISIS) 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, a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.

Since the first incident in July 2014, at least 71 allegations of the ISIS 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. ISIS 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 ISIS in Syria this year was on 8 January 2017 at Talla al-Maqri in Aleppo province.

ISIS Chemical Weapons
Courtesy of IHS Markit

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 ISIS 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.

Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit
Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit

“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 ISIS’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 ISIS’s already low CW production capability.

(Jan 28, 2017 Iraqi special forces say Islamic State were planning to launch long and short-range missiles tipped with chemical or biological war heads from western Mosul. Courtesy of Sky News and YouTube.)

The continuing CW attacks in Mosul most likely draw on remaining stockpiles in the city.

Nevertheless, ISIS 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.

*Intelligence cut-off date: 29 May 2017.

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.

IHS Markit logoIHS Markit is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide.

The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions.

IHS Markit has more than 50,000 key business and government customers, including 85 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world’s leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.