At least two Iraqi civilians have died and nearly a 1,000 are being treated for breathing problems from toxic fumes released from a burning sulphur plant near Mosul, as fighting around the key city continued for a sixth day.
ISIL fighters are accused of setting the sulphur plant ablaze on Thursday during fighting around al-Mishraq, which is south of Mosul, accoring to US officials and local residents.
Hundreds of people were admitted to the nearby Qayyara central hospital with respiratory problems since Friday, hospital director Abdul Salam Jabbouri told Reuters news agency. No deaths had been reported at the hospital
The blaze released toxic fumes seen and felt by residents in the area and, early on Saturday, by military forces and reporters around Qayyara.
“We have had every type of person come in with breathing problems and burning eyes – children, adults, policemen, soldiers,” said Jabbouri. “Daesh [ISIL] set the sulphur on fire so nobody can come near them.”
An estimated 30,000 fighters, including the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal fighters and the Popular Mobilisation Forces – Shia militias that now have official status from Baghdad – are taking part in the Mosul campaign, which is backed by US-led coalition air strikes.
Iraqi commanders have told Al Jazeera an estimated 6,000 ISIL fighters are inside Iraq’s second-largest city.
A cloud of white smoke blanketed the region to the north, where the sulphur factory is located, mingling with black fumes from oil wells that were torched as well