Isil plots attacks with chemical weapon to hold key city of Mosul
ISIL militants are poised to use chemical weapons in a desperate defence of Mosul as Iraqi troops prepare to retake the country's second city, a senior coalition officer has warned.
The recapture of Mosul, which has been in the hands of Islamic State in Iraq and Levant for nearly two years, is "inevitable", but will be a "long, hard road", said Brig Roger Noble, the Australian deputy commander of international troops training and supporting the Iraqi army.
The city is believed to have been fortified with tunnel complexes and minefields made up of thousands of homemade bombs. Iraqi commanders backed by US-led airstrikes are also likely to face a familiar barrage of suicide bombers both on foot and in vehicles.
Brig Noble said generals were expecting a repeat of recent chemical weapons attacks seen on Kurdish troops.
He said: "Chemical weapons are part of the equation and the Iraqi army plans for and operates with that as part of the equation. They would expect the full raft of enemy capabilities to be employed."
Brig Noble, who keeps his own gas mask next to his desk, said both the Iraqis and the US-led coalition were "acutely on guard" for chemical attacks.
The northern city, which fell to the jihadists' lightning advance in June 2014 as some 30,000 Iraqi soldiers fled, is a "seminal terrain point" for the militants, ranking alongside their self-styled caliphate's capital of Raqqa in importance.
Brig Noble said: "For the enemy, it is an important location for their thinking. That means we assess they are likely to defend it. The closer you get to Mosul, it gets hard. It's a long hard road to clear Mosul."
Isil fighters have been accused of firing chlorine or mustard gas at Kurdish fighters several times as the Peshmerga fighters close in from the north and Iraqi soldiers approach from the south.
While chemical weapons have caused few casualties so far, the threat can terrify ground troops. The extremists have seized large quantities of industrial chlorine and are believed to have the expertise to make mustard gas.
They are also feared to have captured chemical weapon stocks from Bashar-al Assad's regime across the border in Syria.
"It's not the First World War, we are not looking at massive barrages of mustard gas, but the use of chemical weapons is a factor," said Brig Noble.
Advancing Iraqi forces are also preparing to have to fight through thick belts of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the outskirts of the city and then along street after street of boobytrapped buildings.
When Iraqi troops liberated Ramadi in December, they found the city seeded with vast numbers of bombs. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Extremists kill 29 in series of bomb attacks
ISIL launched a coordinated assault on a natural gas plant north of Baghdad which killed at least 14 people, while a string of other bomb attacks in and around the capital killed 15 others.
The attack on the gas plant started at dawn with a suicide car bomber hitting the facility's main gate in the town of Taji, about 20km north of Baghdad.
Several suicide bombers and militants then broke into the plant and clashed with the security forces, an official said, adding that 27 troops were wounded.
A car bomb targeting a shopping area in the town of Latifiyah, about 30km south of the capital, killed seven people, including two soldiers. Eighteen people were also wounded in the attack, including four soldiers.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, three separate bomb attacks targeted commercial areas, killing at least eight civilians and wounding 28 others.