Iraqi forces uncovered last week a warehouse containing a large stockpile of chemical agents in al-Qaim, western Anbar province, that belonged to the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), local officials told Diyaruna.
The militants used the warehouse as a central repository for the collection and storage of chemicals used to produce thousands of lethal explosives, they said.
The warehouse was discovered on November 19th during a search-and-comb operation in an industrial area of al-Qaim in search of any remaining ISIS pockets.
During its invasion of Anbar at the end of 2014, ISIS seized the warehouse and several facilities for the manufacture of fertilisers and phosphate that belonged to the Ministry of Industry, said al-Baghdadi tribal mobilisation commander Sheikh Qatari al-Samarmad.
ISIS introduced those dual-use items into the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the highly explosive C4 bombs, he told Diyaruna.
"They were able, by relying on this strategic stockpile, to manufacture thousands of bombs they planted everywhere in the city of al-Qaim and that they used to attack military forces and civilians," he said.
"The warehouse was considered the main source for making explosives and prohibited weapons by the terrorists," al-Samarmad said.
Inside the warehouse, Iraqi forces found 3,000 bags (50 kilogrammes each) of the urea nitrate explosive, used to increase the impact and effectiveness of explosive materials, according to a statement by the Ministry of Defence.
They also found tools and devices used in the manufacture of explosives, it said.
"Security forces have removed and dismantled a lot of the explosives planted by the militants on the roads and inside houses and government buildings in al-Qaim and other areas in Anbar," al-Samarmad said.
But the task is challenging, he said, as the contaminated areas are large and will require much work.
Those IEDs have caused a number of casualties over the past few days, he said, including 15 civilians and military personnel.
New evidence of ISIS crimes
The discovery of the warehouse offers new evidence of ISIS's manufacturing of chemical explosives, said Haditha tribal forces commander Sheikh Awad Saeed al-Jughaifi.
ISIS was able to convert the urea found in large quantities in the warehouse into deadly weapons, he told Diyaruna.
Since the end of 2016, ISIS militants have launched several attacks using explosives and weapons loaded with chemical agents like chlorine and mustard gas, in an attempt to disrupt the advance of security forces.
International organisations, including Human Rights Watch, have documented testimonies from paramedics confirming the involvement of ISIS in carrying out toxic chemical attacks on civilians and military personnel in northern towns, such as al-Qayyarah and Tuz Khurmatu.
ISIS elements launched at least three chemical attacks on the Iraqi town of al-Qayyarah, Human Rights Watch said in a November 2016 report.
Uncovering weapons caches
Iraqi forces, backed by local tribes, continue to search for and destroy ISIS's remaining weapons and explosives caches, said al-Jughaifi.
They have so far managed to defuse at least 6,000 bombs in the cities of al-Qaim, Anah and Rawa, he said.
Anbar provincial council member Farhan Mohammed al-Dulaimi told Diyaruna security forces are carrying out thorough operations to uncover all of ISIS's hideouts and weapon caches in al-Qaim and surrounding areas.
Al-Dulaimi, who has inspected the areas of activity of Iraqi forces in west Anbar, said "what was surprising was the presence of many tunnels and trenches, which extended from one house to another or over long distances, some leading to the desert".
ISIS elements had dug them in order to escape from the battlefield or to delay advancing forces, he said.
He stressed that the search campaigns will be extended to a larger geographical area to undermine the threat of remaining terror pockets.