The Islamic State group has launched two chemical attacks near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing a three-year-old girl, wounding some 600 people and causing hundreds more to flee, Iraqi officials said Saturday.
Security and hospital officials say the latest attack took place early Saturday in the small town of Taza, which was also struck by a barrage of rockets carrying chemicals three days earlier.
"There is fear and panic among the women and children," said Adel Hussein, a local official in Taza. "They're calling for the central government to save them." Hussein said a German and an American forensics team arrived in the area to test for the presence of chemical agents.
The wounded are suffering from infected burns, suffocation and dehydration, said Helmi Hamdi, a nurse at the Taza hospital. He said eight people were transferred to Baghdad for treatment.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said U.S. special forces captured the head of the IS unit trying to develop chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq.
The U.S.-led coalition said the chemicals IS has so far used include chlorine and a low-grade sulfur mustard which is not very potent. "It's a legitimate threat. It's not a high threat. We're not, frankly, losing too much sleep over it," U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters Friday.
The coalition began targeting IS' chemical weapons infrastructure with airstrikes and special operations raids two months ago, Iraqi intelligence officials and a Western security official in Baghdad told the AP.
Airstrikes are targeting laboratories and equipment, and further special forces raids targeting chemical weapons experts are planned, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
The extremist group is believed to have set up a special unit for chemical weapons research made up of Iraqi scientists who worked on weapons programs under Saddam Hussein as well as foreign experts.
The group is believed to have created limited amounts of mustard gas. Tests confirmed mustard gas was used in a town in Syria when IS was launching attacks there in August 2015. There have been other unverified reports of IS using chemical agents on battlefields in Syria and Iraq.