ISIS gas attacks are an admission of weakness

Like much of what ISIS does, the use of gas is also designed to shore up its horrible reputation

Florian Neuhof
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Of all the places ISIS is active, it is in Sinjar where the group most frequently reaches into the past to further its wicked cause.
Its genocidal attack on the Yazidis in 2014 was inspired by its antiquated and inhumane religious interpretation, which was used to justify the killing and enslavement of thousands of members of the religious minority.

They then dug an extensive network of tunnels in the city to move unnoticed by Kurdish forces and coalition aircraft, a tactic that last used on a large scale by the Viet Kong in the Vietnam war.
This month, ISIS resorted to chemical weapons to harass the Kurdish fighters that hold the city after expelling them last November. Gas, not used on a mass scale since World War I, was fired onto Peshmerga positions on the outskirts of town on February 11 in mortar shells, NGO workers active in the area say.


‘An admission of weakness’

Last Thursday, they followed this up by firing rockets into the town itself. The attack hospitalized well over a hundred fighters and civilians, who complained about nausea, headaches and vomiting. The hospital in Sinjar has had to treat so many victims of chemical attacks that it is running out of medicine, staff say.

Luckily, no one has died in the attacks. At this stage, it is unclear whether ISIS has been using mustard or chlorine gas, but as with previous chemical attacks on the Kurds, it has not been sufficiently lethal to kill.

Instead, ISIS has used gas throw defenses into disarray, and thin enemy lines. In Sinjar, however, it does not seem to have followed up the gas attacks with assaults on Kurdish positions. The group is content to lob poison onto its enemy, reveling in the vileness of its deeds.

Like much of what ISIS does, the use of gas is also designed to shore up its horrible reputation. It has become expert in disseminating video and images of beheadings and mass murder with the intent of striking fear into its opponents, and to shock the world. Gruesome violence has also been successful in attracting recruits, who join the ISIS to live out their violent fantasies.

The gas attacks in Sinjar are not the result any strategic rationale. It is in part an admission of weakness - ISIS cannot find a more effective way to react to its expulsion from Sinjar - and otherwise an expression of the group's character, which is defined by its blood lust and nihilistic contempt for life.

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