The world has borne witness to countless crimes committed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria over the past year. Iraqi and Syrian children have not been spared from these atrocities. Several reports by international human rights organizations have documented IS’ use of children for suicide operations, executing prisoners, guerrilla warfare and also as human shields.
While IS, as the main Sunni militant group in Iraq, is brainwashing children and young people to fight Shiites, largely Shiite forces such as the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units are reportedly also training child soldiers to fight Sunni extremists, including IS.
Faisal al-Fahad, a former Iraqi professor of history at Basra University, spoke to Al-Monitor about the challenges Iraqi children face: “Unfortunately, after Operation Iraqi Freedom, children in my country have lived under different humanitarian, security and economic crises. As a result of these crises, they now have abhorrent mindsets.
On the Sunni side, children are trained to fight Iranians, Shiites and Kurds. And on the other side, children are trained to fight against the Sunni opposition, Western countries and Israel; [and] to establish [prophesied redeemer of Islam] Imam Mahdi’s universal government.
All the while, Shiite and Sunni children are executed, participate in suicide operations, trained to kill and have their entire existences engulfed in vengeance. It is worrying.”
The Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya recently aired footage showing a number of teenagers undergoing training at a military camp run by Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units. Another recent video features hundreds of children being trained in the use of AK-47 automatic assault rifles and tactical skills. The footage also showed the children undergoing ideological training led by Shiite clerics.
The units, known as Hashid Shaabi in Arabic, is commanded by Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Ameri as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Of note, the Badr Organization’s past incarnation, the Badr Brigades, was established by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Ameri maintains his close links with the IRGC. Meanwhile, Muhandis is officially on the US terror list.