Summer camp for Iraqi Shia boys: Training to fight IS. In the steamy night in Baghdad, sweat running down his face Iraqi teenagers as they marched around a schoolyard, training for battle against Daesh or self-styled Islamic State group. This is a summer camp in Iraq, created by the country’s largest paramilitary force after the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq issued an edict asking students as young as middle school age to use their summer vacation to prepare to fight Sunni extremists.
Dressed in military uniform, 15 years old, Asam Riad was one of dozens of young people doing high knee marches with swollen to try to appear as high as the senior cadets chest.
“We have been called to defend the nation,” said the scrawny kid with the broken voice as he pledged to join forces of popular mobilization, the umbrella group sanctioned by the government of the mostly Shiite militias.
“I’m not scared because my brothers are fighting beside me.”
With dozens of such camps across the country, hundreds of students have gone through the training, although it is impossible to say how many went on to fight Sunni extremists from those who are independent.
This summer, AP saw more than a dozen armed guys on the front line in the western province of Anbar, including some as young as 10. About 200 cadets on a training class visited by the AP this month about half were under 18, with some as young as 15. Several said that they intended to join their parents and older siblings in the first line.
It’s another way of minors are being drawn into the brutal war in Iraq as the army, the Shiite militias, Sunni tribes and Kurdish fighters struggle to regain territory from the militants of SI who seized much of the north and west last year.
Sunni extremists have aggressively recruited children as young as 10 for combat, as suicide bombers and as torturers in their gruesome videos.
This month, Human Rights Watch said the Syrian Kurdish militias fighting the militants continue to deploy underage fighters.
Including training on the streets of Baghdad, 15 years old, Osama Jaafar said he used to want to be an engineer when he grows up, but now he wants to be a fighter.
His father is a volunteer fighting with Shi’ite militias in Anbar and his older brother is fighting in Beiji, north of Baghdad.
“God willing, when I complete my training I will join them even if it means sacrificing my life to keep Iraq safe,” he said.
The training program could have serious consequences for the US-led coalition, which provides billions of dollars in military and economic aid to the Iraqi government, but has distanced itself from Iranian-backed militias.
The USA. We do not work directly with the Popular Forces for mobilization, but the group received weapons and money from the Iraqi government and is trained by the Iraqi army, which receives training from the US ..
The Law on Prevention of Child Soldiers 2008 says US they can not provide certain forms of military support, including foreign military financing and direct commercial sales to governments that recruit and use child soldiers or paramilitary militias that support or do.
When he was informed of the results of AP, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement saying the US is “very concerned about reports on the use of child soldiers in Iraq between some popular mobilization forces in combating IS”, using the acronym for the militant group. “We have strongly condemned this practice around the world and continue to do so.”
To the Shiite majority in Iraq, the war on IS ─ that considered heretics to be killed ─ is a struggle of life and death for which has mobilized the entire community.
Last year, when he took over the northern city of Mosul, stormed the gates of Baghdad and threatened to destroy Shi’ite shrines, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged the public to volunteer to fight. So great was his influence that hundreds of thousands of men came forward to join the Popular Forces hastily established mobilization along with some of the long-established Shi’ite militias, many of whom receive support from Iran.
Then on June 9, as schools let out, al-Sistani issued a new fatwa urging young people in college, high school and middle school to use their summer vacation to “contribute to conservation ( country) for the training to take up arms and prepare to defend risk if required. “
In response, the Popular Forces Mobilization established summer camps in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad to Basra. A spokesman for the group, Kareem al-Nouri, said the camps give “lessons in self-defense” and are expected to underage volunteers to return to school in September, do not go to the battlefront.
A spokesman for the office of Iraqi Prime Minister echoed this was done. There may be “isolated incidents” of underage combatants joined the fight on their own, Saad al-Harithi to the AP. “But there has been no statement by the Marjaiyah (top Shiite religious authority) or the Popular Forces mobilization for children to join the battle.”
“We are a government that frowns upon children going to war,” he said.
But the line between combat training and combat the reality of marriage is blurred, and is weakly enforced by the Popular Forces for mobilization. Several militias operate under its umbrella, with fighters loyal to different leaders who often act independently.
In training camp in a Shiite middle class neighborhood in western Baghdad earlier this month, the young cadets spoke openly join the battle against his coaches, who did nothing to contradict them.
Neighborhood youths spent their nights in training every night during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended in mid-July, with simulation exercises held every few days since for those who wish to pursue.
Children ran through the streets practicing urban warfare techniques as the toughest battles with IS is likely to involve street fighting. They were taught to maintain, control and aiming light weapons, although not fire. They also took part in public service activities as holding blood drives and collected food and clothing.
Earlier this summer, one of the hottest front lines near the city of Fallujah-IS held in the western province of Anbar, the AP spoke to a number of young boys, some heavily armed militants from Shiites.
Baghdad native Ali Hussein, 12, and his cousin Ali Ahsan, 14, said her parents joined in the battlefield after they finished their final examinations. Carrying AK-47, who was walking through the desert of Anbar, boasting of his decision to release the predominantly Sunni province of militants SI.
“We are honored to serve our country,” said Hussein Ali, adding that some of his classmates were also struggling. When asked if he was afraid, he smiled and said no.
The struggle has been engaged in brutal. IS are the most notorious atrocities and heinous, including mass killings of captured soldiers and civilians. But Shiite militias are said to have also committed abuses. In February, Human Rights Watch accused the Shiite militias under the single umbrella of Popular Forces mobilization “possible war crimes” including forcing Sunni civilians and abducting his home and summarily executed.
In June, the United Nations Fund called for “urgent measures” to be taken by the Iraqi government to protect children, including the criminalization of recruitment of children and “children’s association with the Popular Forces of mobilization.”
The State Department of the United States released its annual Trafficking in Persons report on Monday that foreign governments identified last year as having armed forces or armed groups by the government that recruit and use child soldiers supported lists. These governments are restricted in the following fiscal year to some security assistance and military equipment business license. The report lists Syria, but not Iraq.
Donatella Rovera, adviser to responding to the crisis of high-level Amnesty International, said that if the Shiite militias are using children as combatants, “then the countries that support them are in violation of the UN Convention” on the Rights of the Child .
“If you are supporting the Iraqi army, then by extension, you are supporting the PMF,” she said.
Iraq has a long history of the formation of underage fighters. Under Saddam Hussein, children 12-17 known as “Saddam’s Lion Cubs” attend training a month during the summer with the goal of eventually merging the ─ Fadayeen a paramilitary force loyal to the Baath regime of Saddam .
The Iraqi army restricts the age of recruits between 18 and 35 years, a policy that human rights groups say it is enforced. But there is no law governing Popular Forces mobilization. A bill for the National Guard, oriented towards empowerment of Sunni police their own communities tribes force, deliberately omitted age restrictions, lawmakers say they want open to qualified fighters over 35 years.
The UN Convention does not prohibit giving military training to minors. But Jo Becker, advocacy director of the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, said that children are put at risk.
“Governments like to say:” Of course, we can recruit without putting children at risk “, but in a place of conflict, these landscapes fade very quickly,” he said.
Once in a combat situation, children are immersed in the horrors of war, he said. “They have a sense of maturity and good and evil can more easily commit atrocities than adults.”