Qayyarah (Iraq) (AFP) - Toxic fumes released when jihadists torched a sulphur plant near Mosul earlier this week have killed two Iraqi civilians and forced US troops at a nearby base to wear masks.
"Daesh blew up the sulphur plant two days ago and that has led to the deaths of two people among the civilians in nearby villages," Iraqi General Qusay Hamid Kadhem told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group (IS).
The senior officer of the interior ministry's elite rapid response force said "many others were injured as a result of the toxic smoke."
According to several security and health sources in the area, where tens of thousands of Iraqi forces are involved in a massive offensive to wrest Mosul back from IS, the group torched at least part of the Mishraq sulphur factory on Wednesday.
The blast released toxic fumes that were seen and felt by residents in the area and, early on Saturday, by forces and reporters around Qayyarah, one of the main staging bases of the anti-IS operation south of Mosul.
Kadhem admitted that the toxic fumes were having an impact on operations: "Of course, this is affecting our planned progress."
A US official in Baghdad told reporters that US forces stationed at the main staging base of Qayyarah, south of Mosul, had taken out their gas masks as a precaution.
"There is a sulphur plant near Q-West," the military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
IS militants "found a storage pile of sulphur" and set it on fire, he said. "This caused a very large smoke plume."
The official explained that the wind had recently turned and started blowing the toxic cloud towards Qayyarah.
"There are people who have chosen to wear their protective gear," he said, playing down the risk and stressing that only basic protective equipment was being used.
"Nobody is hurt at this point," he added, referring to US personnel on the base.
He said samples were being sent to a lab and added that ongoing Iraqi efforts to put out the fire at the Mishraq plant were estimated to take another two to three days.