Iraqi forces close in on Mosul's main government buildings, commander says

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, they are now suspected of using toxic chemicals in their attacks.

The Islamic State jihadist group, which holds the majority of west Mosul, has periodically used rudimentary chemical weapons in the course of its more than two-year war with Iraqi forces.

The attack reportedly happened in Eastern Mosul earlier this week.

"This is terrible", said the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, in a statement.

According to the World Health Organization, since the beginning of the month they have seen 12 patients with respiratory symptoms and blistering, four of whom "are showing severe signs associated with exposure to a blister agent".

Twelve people, including women and children, are being treated in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region east of Mosul, for possible exposure to chemical agents causing blisters, eye redness, vomitting and irritation, the United Nations said on Saturday.

The United Nations warned that the alleged use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, would be a war crime and a serious violation of worldwide humanitarian law.

She said retaking the government building would be significant.

On Sunday, Iraqi forces moved to take four IS-held neighbourhoods in west Mosul, including one that houses provincial government offices.

The Counter-Terrorism Service and Rapid Response are two special forces units that have spearheaded operations in the Mosul area, while the federal police are a paramilitary police unit.

"There was a very bad smell, it was some kind of gas", he said.

Displaced Iraqis walk under rain while fleeing their homes as Iraqi forces battle Daesh in western Mosul, Iraq.

Those people, who continue to remain in the sieged Mosul, are on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. The eastern side remains within reach of the militants' rockets and mortar shells.

"Make no mistake about it, as we get closer to the center of the city, it just gets tougher and tougher because of the terrain that the Iraqi security forces are about to enter", Uribe told AFP in a phone interview from Baghdad.

Defeating ISIL in Mosul would effectively wipe out the Iraqi wing of the militant group, which took over large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The operation in Mosul was officially launched in October previous year.

  • Joanne Flowers