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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Evidence of insurgents using child soldiers

BAGHDAD, 15 March 2005 (IRIN) - Early every morning Mahmoud, 13, leaves his uncle's home in Baghdad to take lessons in how to fight US troops. Orphaned when his father was killed by US-led troops, Mahmoud has absorbed the feelings of hate held for the US by his uncle who fights with the insurgents. Now he is ready to fight them too.

"I want to die as a martyr as my father did. I want to learn how to kill people who entered our country to kill our parents. I'm alone. I don't think that school is something bad but when I hit one of the US guys I feel that I have learned a true lesson, better than mathematics and sciences," Mahmoud told IRIN in Baghdad.

He has been living in the capital for over two years, but his family are originally from Latifyah, a Sunni insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad.

According to Mahmoud's uncle, who calls himself Abu Omar, Mahmoud is one of 23 Sunni children, either orphans or children of insurgents, who have been involved in the fight against the US. They have been receiving daily lessons in how to use Kalashnikovs and grenades and how to access their targets with safety, he told IRIN.

The insurgents often use the children as informers and messengers, Abu Omar said, as they believe that the US troops are likely to see them as innocent. They are also used in diversion tactics to distract troops so that insurgents can get to their targets more easily. If necessary the children will also use their guns against parked humvees [US military vehicles] in the streets.

US Coalition force officials told IRIN that they have been informed of these kinds of operations and that some children have been captured for interrogation. However, being under age the children are released fairly quickly, often due to pressure from NGOs concerned about the rights of children.

The US military is also careful to ensure that the children do not get too close to their humvee vehicles for safety reasons.

"For our security and the children's security we advise children not to be come closer to the humvees or any US convoy since in case of attacks we won't be able to differentiate the insurgents from the innocent ones. It's difficult, and for this reason most of the capital has been handed over to the Iraqi army to prevent such incidents," Brig. Gen. Brian Smith, a senior Coalition force official, told IRIN.

Smith said that last week a child was arrested at a checkpoint in the capital for carrying grenades. So far they haven't been able to reach his parents, he said. "They are using their own children in the middle of this mess, they are putting a very cheap price on the lives of their children," he added.

About 90 children and youths under 18 years old are being held in Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, Lt Col Barry Johnson, spokesman for the army detainee operation, told IRIN.

"Most of them are just being questioned and will be set free as soon as we end our investigation. They are being taken care of according to their rights despite what they have done," Johnson added.

Maj. Abdalah Hassan, a senior policeman in Hayfa Street, one of the most volatile areas in the capital due to a heavy insurgent presence, told IRIN that they had captured more than 60 children and youths in the area who were found to be fighting or working for the insurgents.

Hassan said that during their interrogations they had assumed that the youths were working as insurgents and that most of them were captured carrying Kalashnikovs and grenades. "Three days ago we captured a 12-year-old child who attacked our police car with a grenade but thank God no one was inside it," he added.

Deputy Minister of Interior Sabah Kadham, told IRIN that according to humanitarian law, no child can be captured or punished for this kind of action. But he added that the problem lies with the children's families who are giving incentives, in which case something should be done to stop it.

"We are trying to get information from the children captured but the biggest problem is that most of them have rejected the idea of helping us and some of them don't even know where they live," Kadham complained.

But the most worrying aspect of the situation is the negative psychological impact on the children, according to an Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) medical team.

One doctor, who preferred not to be named for security reasons, told IRIN that he had examined some of the captured children and he found that they had effectively been brainwashed. Some of them believe fervently that justice should be carried out through killing and that beheading people is normal in the name of God, he said.

"I have found my calling, I want to be a fighter in the name of God and even if I have to die, I will do it," Mahmoud said. "My uncle says that in the future it could bring good money for me and my sister."

Themes: (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Human Rights

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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