Iraqi government-backed militias are recruiting children for the U.S.-backed effort to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State, Human Rights Watch reports.
“The government and its foreign allies need to take action now, or children are going to be fighting on both sides in Mosul,” senior children’s rights researcher Bill Van Esveld noted in the report.
The report stated several eyewitness accounts of competing militias offering salaries, and carting young boys out of refugee camps in trucks to the battlefield. ISIS has consistently used child soldiers in Iraq and Syria, and prominently features child executioners in its propaganda videos.
“We are fighting alongside the ISF, and our salaries are paid by Baghdad, we are basically part of the Iraqi military,” one militia fighter told Human Rights Watch.
The gray area of government-backed militias has complicated the U.S.-backed effort to retake cities held by ISIS throughout Iraq.
The U.S. maintains its mission in Iraq is focused on training and advising the official Iraqi Security Forces. The Iraqi government however has allowed several religiously affiliated militias to participate in the ISIS offensives, despite deep reservations by the U.S. Many of these the militias have connections to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and are responsible for sectarian war crimes against Sunni minorities in Iraq.
During the U.S. backed effort to retake the city of Ramadi from ISIS, Iranian-backed militias played a key role in retaking the city. After retaking the city, the militias maintained a presence in the area and reportedly targeted Sunni civilians.
“The battle for Mosul should not be fought with children on the front lines,” Van Esveld continued in the report.
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