A boy pauses on his bike as he passes an oil field that was set on fire by retreating ISIS fighters ahead of the Mosul offensive, on 21 October 2016 in Qayyarah, Iraq. Photo: Carl Court / Getty Images

By  Brad Plumer
6 November 2016

(Vox) – The scene looks apocalyptic from space — thick plumes of black and white smoke obscuring the landscape of northern Iraq near Mosul, the central battleground in the war against the Islamic State.

That white plume was captured by NASA satellites on October 22, shortly after ISIS militants set fire to a large sulfur plant in the area. The resulting sulfur-dioxide pollution, which can cause severe respiratory problems and irritate the eyes and throat, has killed two people and sent at least 1,000 others to hospitals. US forces in the region have donned gas masks and other protective gear in response.

The sulfur fire is part of a larger, disturbing pattern that’s been unfolding over the summer and fall: As a loose array of Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, and Shiite paramilitaries push closer to Mosul, ISIS has been setting fire to oil fields and factories, filling the air with toxins, and contaminating key sources of drinking water. […]

"This is sadly just the latest episode in what has been the wholesale destruction of Iraq's environment over several decades,” said Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, in a statement. “This ongoing ecocide is a recipe for a prolonged disaster. It makes living conditions dangerous and miserable, if not impossible.” [more]

In Iraq, the environment itself has once again become a weapon of war

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