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Iraq PM vows retaliation after IS chemical attack
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) March 12, 2016

Britain sends more troops to train Iraqis fighting IS
London (AFP) March 12, 2016 - Britain said Saturday it was sending more troops to Iraq to bolster its mission training up the armed forces taking on the Islamic State jihadist group.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said a further 30 troops would be deployed to provide training in logistics and bridge-building, as well as specialist medical staff.

The move would take the total number of British personnel on training missions inside Iraq to 300.

The additional troops are expected to be deployed to training camps at Bismayah and Taji outside Baghdad.

Fallon said "solid progress" has been made in the fight against IS, also known as Daesh, which rules large parts of Syria and Iraq under its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

"Now is the time to step up our training of Iraqi forces, as they prepare for operations in key cities such as Fallujah and Mosul," he said.

"Along with the trebling of UK air strikes, this underlines the crucial role our armed forces are playing in the fight against Daesh."

British jets have been striking IS targets in Iraq and Syria.

On Wednesday, British Tornado and Typhoon aircraft conducted four attacks in northern and western Iraq.

The day after they carried out five attacks in the same area, destroying a weapons cache and several IS fighting positions, the ministry of defence said.

Turkey hits PKK targets in Iraq with air strikes
Istanbul (AFP) March 12, 2016 - Turkey's air force bombarded Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq this week, killing 67 rebel fighters, the military said Saturday, the first such strikes in nearly a month.

The air strikes, carried out by 14 F-16 and F-4 fighter-bombers, hit camps and other installations run by the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, the military said in a statement carried by local media.

It is the first such operation against PKK bases in Iraq since February 18, when the air force launched raids in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Ankara that killed 29 people, which Turkey blamed on Kurdish rebels.

The Ankara attack, which targeted a convoy of five buses carrying army staff, was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), who have been linked to the PKK.

Turkey has in recent months waged an all-out assault on the PKK, which launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, fighting for greater autonomy and rights for the country's largest ethnic minority.

After more than two years of ceasefire, deadly clashes restarted last year between security forces and rebels in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.

Last month Turkey carried out artillery bombardments on Kurdish fighters in Syria and threatened to extend the action to include air strikes.

Turkey targeted the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which it considers to be a terror group linked to the PKK despite support for the group from Ankara's ally Washington.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed on Saturday to retaliate against the Islamic State group after it launched a chemical attack on a town near Kirkuk.

The suspected mustard gas attack on Taza that left a three-year-old girl dead "will not go unpunished", the premier said in a statement.

A large number of rockets were fired at Taza on Wednesday from the nearby village of Bashir, which is held by the jihadists.

Intelligence experts are still analysing samples, but local officials believe mustard agent was used in the attack on Taza, which lies just south of the city of Kirkuk and is around 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of Baghdad.

Abadi promised that medical support would be provided to the town, where hundreds of people were treated following the chemical attack.

Iranian Health Minister Hassan Hashemi said Saturday a medical team from the Islamic republic had arrived in Kirkuk after an "urgent request" from his Iraqi counterpart, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral on Friday of Fatima Samir, the girl who died of wounds suffered in the attack. Some of the mourners carried placards demanding protection.

The Iraqi air force carried out a strike on Bashir overnight and Abadi promised a ground operation to retake the village from IS soon, pro-government militia commander Abu Ridha al-Najjar said.

Bashir lies in an area that is officially under federal administration but is controlled by Kurdish forces that de facto expanded their autonomous region on the back of the jihadists' 2014 offensive.

Tension has been high between Kurdish forces and Shiite militias in the area, impeding military cooperation against IS.

In February, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan for the first time openly accused IS of using chemical weapons, including mustard gas, in Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi girl dies after IS chemical attack
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) March 11, 2016 - A three-year-old Iraqi girl wounded in a chemical attack by the Islamic State group died in hospital Friday, medical sources and officials said.

"She died of respiratory complications and kidney failure... caused by the mustard agent used by Daesh (IS) in Taza," said Masrour Aswad, of the Iraqi Commission for Human Rights.

Fatima Samir was among the dozens of people hospitalised after a chemical attack carried out Wednesday on Taza, a town just south of the city of Kirkuk.

Burhan Abdallah, the head of Kirkuk health directorate, said four people in serious condition were transferred to Baghdad.

Aswad said the rockets fired on Taza from the nearby IS-held town of Bashir contained mustard agent. Other security officials said chlorine may have been used.

Intelligence officials have collected samples that are still being analysed.

IS has used both chemical agents in the past, a tactic which has caused few casualties and whose impact so far has been more psychological than military.

Abu Ridha al-Najjar, a leader in the Turkmen branch of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella group that includes Iraq's mostly Shiite militias, said the attack had sown fear.

"International NGOs should come to the region to see the effects of such shelling and its consequences on the civilian population, including after the attack," he said.

The Pentagon announced on Thursday that the US-led coalition against IS had carried out air strikes on the jihadist group's chemical weapons sites.

It said the targets were identified following the capture in Iraq last month of a man presented as the group's top chemical expert.

The coalition's spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, said Friday that the use of chemical weapons by IS was a concern but he also downplayed its importance.

"It's not a high threat... we're not losing too much sleep over it," he told reporters in a video call.

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