Toxic fumes released when extremists torched a sulphur plant near Mosul in Iraq have killed two civilians, made many ill and forced US troops at a nearby base to wear masks.

Nearly 1,000 people have been treated for breathing problems linked to fumes from a burning sulphur plant set ablaze during fighting with the so-called Islamic State (IS) near Mosul.

Sources at the hospital in Qayyara said that while hundreds have been treated for breathing problems, there has been no death at the medical facility itself.

However an Iraqi general said there had been two deaths.

“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 said, using an Arabic acronym for 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”.

A cloud of white smoke blanketed the region to the north, where the factory is located, mingling with black fumes from oil wells that the militants torched to cover their moves.

US officials said IS set the sulfur plant ablaze on Thursday during fighting around al-Mishraq, which is south of Mosul. Iraqi state TV said the fire has now been put out.

US officials said US forces at a nearby airfield are wearing protective masks today as a result of fumes from the fire.

An official explained that the wind had recently turned and started blowing the toxic cloud towards Qayyarah.

The Qayyara West airfield is the main US hub to support Iraqi-led operations to retake the city of Mosul from IS. There are about 5,000 US troops in Iraq but the US military has not disclosed the number of personnel at the airfield.

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