Insurgents Prey On Vulnerability Of Youth
August 30, 2007
In the United States, we look at our children as the future of our Country. Because of their youth and the vulnerability that goes with their youth, we’ve always been taught to protect the children, to nuture them, teach them right from wrong and encourage them to learn and grow. In Iraq, by the insurgency, children are often looked upon as pawns in their deadly game, someone that the insurgents can exploit and manipulate, someone that to them is an expendable commodity. When I read this story, I was infuriated. Infuriated that the insurgents place such little value on children, the future of Iraq. Each time I read something like this, it sickens me to think that these people have such little value for life that they’re willing to victimize children in this way.
A chilling trend is becoming apparent in Iraq, since the troop build-up earlier this year. Insurgents are increasingly taking advantage of the vulnerability of children and using them as pawns in their deadly game. Children, sometimes as young as 11 are being increasingly used in kidnappings, killings and the planting of roadside bombs. According to Major General Douglas Stone, the commander of Detainee Operations, since March the number of children being detained because of involvement in terrorist activities has risen from 100 to around 800. According to Stone, this can be attributed to the pressure on the insurgency that the build-up of US Forces has placed on the flow of foreign fighters into the country.
“As our operations have increased, al-Qaeda in Iraq and others have used more minors in the fight against us, and in the process, we have detained more and more juveniles.” Stone said.
Because children lack the deductive reasoning skills of adults and are easily influenced, the insurgency has taken advantage of this, as fewer foreign fighters are able to enter the country. Children for the most part, are easily swayed by the false promised made by the insurgents. Many feel that they need to help with supporting their families, so when an insurgent offers them $200-300 to plant a roadside bomb, they see it as an easy way to make some quick money. Unfortunately, some of the children have told interrogators that their parents urged them to work with the insurgents, because of their willingness to pay them a few dollars to do their dirty work.
The insurgents prey on children from the most impoverished areas of Iraq. Many of them from te regions to the North and West of Baghdad. They’re well aware, that if they’re willing to give these children money, they can quickly become their role models and the children can be easily manipulated to do their bdding. They use tactics, such as showing the children websites of children as martyrs, they play heavily on telling them that they’ll be a hero, a martyr.
This can become highly confusing to Coalition Forces, who come from countries where children are thought of as innocents that shoud be protected. Some of the offenses that children havebeen arrested for are kidnappings and killings, though the majority have been arrested for planting roadside bombs inexchange for money from the insurgents.
To accomodate the large influx of young boys and to hopefully break the hold the insurgents have on thm, a new educational facility, called the House of Wisdom, opened on August 13th near Camp Cropper. Camp Cropper is te US detention area. The boys are held in an area separate from the detainees. Many of the boys are illiterate. At the educational facility, they study basic Arabic, English, math, geography, civics and science.
In the daily civics lessons, the boys are tought Iraqi history and information about new government institutions. A team of psychiatrists are on staff and will provide regular counseling to the boys. A huge library is in the works and will eventually hold 4,000 volums. Currently in the library are English textbooks, computer manuals and even a set of the popular Harry Potter books that have been translated into Arabic.
“We have quickly realized,” Stone said, as he was interviewed at the school, “that most of these young men are victims not only of a-Qaeda in Iraq, but of their own illiteracy. Because they couldn’t read or write, they also couldn’t work, and unemployed young men are also angry young men, susceptible to the cunning arguments of extremists.”
Reporters were allowed to observe a class in session, though they weren’t allowed to ask the children questions. The class reporters attended was led by an Iraqi teacher who was leading an Arabic lesson for a class of about 30 boys.
“Who wants to read? the teacher asked. Hands rose across the room.
The teacher chose a boy in the back row, with his hair slicked back and asked him to chose a story.
The boy thumbed through the book carefully, settling finally on a story about a narrator who finds a captive, abused cat and decides to feed, water and release it.
“It’s about freedom,” the boy said.
Even while being detained, the adult detainees attempt to influence the children. The adults will wrap notes around stones and toss them over the wall into the children’s sleeping areas. They’ll often yell out to them. They try to maintain that “control” over the children, telling them that the teachers and guards are infedels and are going to try to convert them to Christianity. Teachers are constantly working to undo that influence. The job is difficult, but these children…. the future of Iraq deserve the chance to change and better their lives.
According to historians, the use of children isn’t something new in Iraq. During the reign of Saddam Hussein’s regime, children belonging to the organization Ashbal Sammad - Saddam’s Lion Cubs - were used a a paramilitary force. The youth were generally between the ages of 10 and 15 and were primarily used to feed the fedayeen units that were led by Saddam’s son Uday.
Stone feels strongly that if these children can be trained to be militants, they can also be rehabilited. Though he’s a Christian himself, Stone reads the Koran daily, to help his efforts to provide the boys with tools to question the motives of the militantancy and what they have been taught by the militants. He points to signs that he feels indicate that by isolating these vlnerable young men from the extremists can work.
In early drawings by some of the boys, the pictures were largely of masked gunmen representing the militants, defeating Iraqi soldiers. In later drawings by some of the same boys, the theme has changed and the masked gunmen are the losers.
These children still have a chance. There is still hope that they can grow up to become productive members of Iraqi society, that, by being taken away from the clutches of the insurgents, these children can learn and grow up to contribute to their country in a positive way.