Iraqi “summer camps” are reportedly training children as young as 12 to fight on the front lines against Islamic State militants.
The Popular Mobilization Forces, a Shiite volunteer militia also known by its Arabic name “al-Hashd al-Shaabi,” operates the camps. The PMF is backed by Iran and endorsed by the Iraqi government.
The camps help fulfill a recent ruling by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite authority, who ordered schoolboys to use their summer vacations for training to fight Islamic State.
According to the Associated Press, the PMF operates these camps in cities throughout the country. Boys learn how to handle light weapons and conduct the urban warfare that many say will be key to driving ISIS from Iraq. The AP claims “hundreds” of boys have gone through the program, about half of them under 18. (RELATED: ISIS’ New Shock Video Shows Just How Desperate They Are)
The article also profiles young Iraqis, aged as young as 12, who say they have joined their fathers on their battlefield, taking up AK-47s as soon as school let out for the summer. And AP’s correspondents say they saw “over a dozen” boys, including 10-year-olds, on the front line against ISIS earlier this year.
Islamic State has extensively featured young children in its propaganda, including as executioners. The group’s exploitation of minors has solidified outsiders’ horror at its continued atrocities.
But Iraq’s anti-ISIS forces face resistance as well. The PMF and other militias, which are predominantly Shiite and funded by Iran, face accusations of attacking Sunni civilians and committing other wartime abuses. (RELATED: Hatchet-Wielding Lunatic Kills ISIS, Thrills Iran)
While the PMF is an independent militia, it is widely acknowledged to receive money and support from the Iraqi government. Its use of children may therefore affect U.S. assistance to the Iraqi government as it struggles to fight against Islamic State.
A 2008 law called the Child Soldiers Protection Act criminalizes the use of child soldiers, and outlaws U.S. assistance to any military that deploys children. Nine countries are currently covered by the Act, six of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad told the AP it was “very concerned by the allegations” of enlisted child soldiers. The Department of State did not respond to an request for further comment by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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