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Iraqs children fighters

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Iraq’s Children Fighters By Afif Sarhan

Mohammed,13, finishes his breakfast, changes his clothes and walk three kilometres, not to school or even work but to a training campaign.

Carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a belt filled with bullets, he kisses his mother with a broken heart and heads for the unknown.

“I was forced to help militants to save the life of my mother and sisters,” he tells with a tone full of sorrow and pain.

“I would like to be in a classroom rather than helping make bombs or training on how to use a weapon but sometimes children cannot choose their future.”

Al-Qaeda and some other militant groups in war-ravaged Iraq are accused of using dozens of children to aid their attacks, sometimes under the threat of targeting their families should they refuse to cooperate.

Mohammed (not his real name) only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, scared to be killed if his trainers knew he talked about his duties to the media.

“My father was killed by US troops on the outskirts of Ramadi two years ago and since than my mother has been struggling to bring us enough money to survive,” he recalls bitterly.

“One day, five men came to our door and threatened her. They wanted me to help them in exchange for food and the rent,” he added.

“If we refused, they would have killed me and my oldest sister. My mother had no chance even to think. She had to agree.”

What is more shocking is when children are sold to militant groups to fight with them.

“My son was ‘crazy’. I was spending a lot of money on his health without hope,” Abdel-Rahman Jalil said about his 12-year-old boy.

“One-day militants offered me US $5,000 for my son to go with them and I agreed,” he told IOL.

“I’m unemployed and need money to survive and although he can be useful, something that he would never be with us.”

Trained Bombers

Mohammed has been trained to become a suicide bomber, which he hates.

“They want us to learn how to make a bomb and how to carry it,” he said.

“Like me there are dozens of other children. Some exclusively trained to be a shahid (martyr) but all of us have to learn the basic steps,” he added.

“I don’t want to die but when I imagine my family being killed by them, I forget all fair.”

Several local NGO have sounded the alarm over the use of handicapped children for terrorism attacks, after using those with psychological disorders for the same purpose.

“Insurgents and militants are putting children with health problem in front of a crossfire where the only victim is the innocent child,” charges Fae’ek Jaboury, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Human Rights Organisation (IHRO).

“Our NGO has been helping 12 children who were victims of this exploitation and among them, five are handicapped and four have mental disorders.”

He said volunteers in Anbar, Diyala and Najaf provinces have been reporting the continuing use of children with health problems to help militants.

One handicapped child was interviewed with approval from his instructor, a member of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“I lost my arm in the same attack that killed my parents and sister,” Bilal [not his real name] told IOL in al-Qaim, referring to the 2004 onslaught on Fallujah.

“I swore to take my revenge from the US troops. They don’t force me to learn how to be a suicide bomber but I want to meet my family again as a martyr and a hero,” he said.

“I celebrated with my friends two weeks ago our first success. We killed two US Marines on the outskirts of al-Qaim and day after day we will prevail over our occupiers.”

There was no independent confirmation of the attack of the alleged killing of American troops in the area.

Lt. Col. Ali Jaffar, a senior Ministry of Defence official, said many attacks have been carried out by children.

“Children are being exposed to the most dangerous situations by helping insurgents. When we are fighting adults it is easier to confront them face-to-face but how can we fight children if we are here to protect them?”

Condemned Scholars and resistance groups have affirmed that using children would smear the image of Islam. International law protects children from being recruitment and participation in conflict but for Abu Ahmed, who claims to be a trainer for al-Qaeda, they are helping children neglected by their families.

“Al-Qaeda doesn’t use children as suicide bomber but we inform them how to defend against the occidental oppressors,” he claimed.

“Most are children who don’t pass the ‘quality control’ imposed by society.”

According to a spokesperson for the Islamic Army, an Iraqi resistance group, Al-Qaeda has been forcing children to work for them.

“We know that many groups in Iraq, beside al-Qaeda, are recruiting children and this also includes Shiite militias,” he told IOL.

“The true resistance of Iraq doesn’t put children in dangerous situations and our aim is to target US forces who are the invaders of the Islamic Mesopotamian land.”

The spokesman warned that using children in attacks would smear the image of the resistance.

“People will get the impression that all groups are taking children as support but we have to make clear that it is present in this land, however, serious and true Islamic fighters are against such issue.”

Sunni scholars are totally against such actions and condemn al-Qaeda and any other group recruiting children to fight.

“We have been informed of cases in which children died for refusing to fight with Al-Qaeda and it is unacceptable,” said Sheikh Ibraheem Ayad.

“We call on groups using children as weapons support to set them free and not to threaten their families,” he added.

“Children are the future of our society and forcing them to work with militias or resistance groups just destroys the image of Islam.” *Source: Islam Online