Some children have been recruited by insurgents to fight in Iraq, according to a prominent local NGO.
The Iraq Aid Association (IAA) in Baghdad, which works with children suffering psychological trauma as a result of violence, said most child insurgents harbour reasons for revenge.
International law protects children from recruitment and participation in conflict.
“We have heard of cases of children helping insurgents and this should have been prevented. Insurgents should be careful in putting children in such dangerous situations,” an IAA spokesperson said.
According to the NGO, at least 15 children have been used by insurgents and five are in therapy with the NGO for psychological problems. IAA added that there were many more cases of children participating in the insurgency, especially in the western Anbar province.
Ten-year-old Mustafa Ibrahim is one such child. He said he has hated US troops since his parents were killed by them in May 2004 as they fled a battle in Fallujah city. “I do not have anyone for me in this world and I want to meet my family in heaven by revenging their death because God will compensate me for this,” he said.
Mustafa said he celebrated with his friends after he took part in an attack three weeks ago that led to the death of three US marines on the outskirts of the city of Ramadi.
“I have been trained to be a suicide bomber but he [the insurgent trainer] wants me to wait for an opportune time to become a shahid [martyr] in a very special attack and until that happens, I have to help in attacks against the US troops who are against Islam and [who are] the killers of my parents,” Mustafa said.
‘Shahid’ is a religious term in Islam that literally means ‘witness’. It is a title that is given to a Muslim after his death if he died during fulfilment of a religious commandment, or during a war for the religion.
Muhammad al-Askari, Iraqi Ministry of Defence spokesman, told IRIN he was not aware of children being used in suicide attacks against Iraqi and US troops.
However, an Iraqi soldier, who did not want to be named, has confirmed that he witnessed such an attack in the past two weeks. He said a very good looking boy approached him and a group of his fellow soldiers and then blew himself up.
“When he came near my colleagues, there was no time to run,” the soldier said. He said he escaped with a few injuries while his friends were killed.
At least three insurgent groups [which declined to be named] have admitted to using children as helpers - two groups in Baghdad and one in Anbar.
“We can fight adults but how can we fight children if our duty is to protect them?” asked the soldier who had survived the above attack.
The child suicide bomber in the above attack, 11-year-old Muhammad Saleh, is considered a hero by fellow child insurgents. The man who says he trained him did not want to be named. He said he has trained 22 children, between the ages of 7 and 12, to be suicide bombers or militants.
“He [Muhammed] wore a bomb belt and went close to an Iraqi army compound. Because he was a child, no one paid attention when he got close to them,” the instructor said, adding that he watched at least five soldiers get killed in the attack.
According to the instructor, insurgents give weapons to child fighters after training them for three months on how to use them. He said very small children unable to carry the weight of a weapon are instead taught how to use hand grenades and taught how to distract US soldiers before attacks.
“We are just helping them to realise their dream of being a fighter and become a shahid [martyr]. They are not forced to do that but we have an obligation to help them,” Muhammad's instructor said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions