The morning’s headlines include the story that officials in the US are investigating reports of ISIL using banned chemical weapons in Iraq, including mustard gas.
Also, Sir John Chilcot’s highly-anticipated Iraq inquiry receives significant coverage in today's papers.
ISIL chemical weapons
There is coverage across broadcast outlets that the US is looking into reports of ISIL using chemical weapons against Kurdish forces in Iraq. Kurdish officials have said their Peshmerga forces were attacked on Wednesday near the town of Makhmour, not far from Irbil. Germany's military had been training the Kurds in the area and the German defence ministry said some 60 Kurdish fighters suffered breathing difficulties from the attack.
Former Commanding Officer of the UK CBRN Regiment, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was unlikely that ISIL had manufactured the weapons themselves, but could well have control on some stocks. He added that he is delighted that the Pentagon is playing this down, and that the British and German forces training the Kurdish forces will be making sure they can deal with attacks such as these – the key is to ensure the Peshmerga are properly equipped and trained so that ISIL don’t gain the psychological upper hand. Both the Daily Telegraph and the Times report on the story, saying dozens of Kurdish troops being trained by British and German soldiers suffered "respiratory irritation" after a chemical rocket attack. An MOD spokesperson said:
Our personnel complete thorough training before they deploy to ensure they are fully prepared for any threats they might face. Military bases have appropriate Force Protection measures in place, which are kept under continuous review.
There is continued widespread coverage across most print outlets, including The Times, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, of the significant delays to the publication of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry, and the threat of legal action by the families of British service personnel killed in the Iraq, who believe it is time for answers. The Daily Telegraph carries comments from Reg Keys, whose son was killed in the 2003 conflict, and who says that Sir John does not understand "the strength of feeling" among bereaved families and that there is no legal requirement to give right of reply to those criticised in the report. The Daily Mail says that Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, has stepped into the row by saying Sir John had failed to give 'straight answers' about the reasons for the delays.
Opinion pieces and editorials across the papers are dedicated to the topic, including in the Guardian.
The Times reports that Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine have cancelled all military leave and are mobilising for “full-combat readiness”, according to a Kremlin-run television station has said. The piece references Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s recent visit to Ukraine, where he said Britain would double its contribution to efforts to train Ukrainian forces, and includes his comments that the conflict is not frozen but “red hot”.
The Guardian carries a letter from Carmen Romero, NATO deputy spokesperson, who responds to the paper’s article “Russia and NATO war games ‘raise risk of the real thing’”. She says that NATO military exercises are announced months in advance and intended to enhance security and stability in Europe. The letter also points out that whilst NATO seeks no confrontation with Russia, Russia has announced more than 4,000 exercises this year, which is over 10 times more than what NATO and allies have planned.
The Times carries a positive picture story which shows the third of the Royal Navy’s Astute class submarines, HMS Artful, leaving the BAE Systems dockyard in Barrow-in-Furness for sea trails. Meanwhile The Sun writes that the Royal Navy is in line to get 2,500 extra sailors after “pleading for more manpower to defend Britain”. The piece reports that the influx is desperately needed after 5,000 were made redundant, and a source is quoted as saying that the Royal Navy is now winning the argument against the Government, ahead of the arrival of the new aircraft carriers. An MOD spokesperson said:
When the new Carriers are commissioned there will always be one available for operations to keep Britain safe. Defence is already planning through the SDSR process to ensure that it has suitably trained and qualified people it needs to achieve this.
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