Child soldiers: Iraqi govt militia recruits displaced minors to fight ISIS, HRW report says
Child soldiers are recruited by government-aligned militias to fight Islamic State forces in Mosul, Human Rights Watch has learned. The NGO urges Iraq’s allies to take action as the US-led coalition plans to retake the Iraqi city before year-end.
Speaking to witnesses on the ground the HRW discovered that two tribal militias who are taking part in the fight for Mosul recruited at least seven children from the Debaga camp in August.
The camp itself houses displaced persons who fled Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) from an area near Mosul. The HRW found that people living in the camp since March attested to seeing at least two militia groups, commanded by Sheikh Nishwan al-Jabouri and by Maghdad al-Sabawy, recruit from the camp for months.
Witnesses told the NGO that they have seen trucks arriving empty to the camps but driving away with new recruits, which sometimes included underage boys. On the evening of August 14, camps residents reported seeing some 250 recruits being taken away by Sheikh al-Jabouri’s forces, with seven boys among them.
The boys were said to be then driven to a town 7km from the front lines with IS, closer to Mosul, where Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are preparing for an offensive to drive the terrorists from the city.
An unnamed aid worker revealed to the HRW that recruiting from the camps was part of the government-backed militias’ plan to reinforce the front line with terrorists. The NGO has also documented that Iraqi Shiite militias as well used child soldiers to fight IS forces.
On the other side of the front, militia’s young soldiers are to be met by the so-called ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’, child combatants recruited and trained by IS.
“This is a violation of international law that Iraq has voluntarily signed up to,” HRW’s senior children’s rights worker in the region, Bill van Esveld, told RT on Wednesday.
“These cases of child recruitment that we have documented should prompt real oversight not only from Iraqi government, but also its allies such as the United States which have been supporting the Iraqi armed forces,” he said.
Since the fall of Mosul to IS forces in June 2014, the United States and the Iraqi Government have relentlessly tried to recapture the city.
The so-called Operation Conquest is led by the Iraqi government forces with allied militias, Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to limited US ground forces, and allied air support. After failing to expel IS from the country’s second-largest city in 2015, the current stage of the offensive began on 24 March 2016.
On Tuesday, commander of US forces in the Middle East said the city could be liberated by the end of the year.
“It's the prime minister's objective to have that done by the end of the year,” General Joe Votel, told reporters. “My assessment is that we can meet the prime minister's objective if that is what he chooses to do.”
In light of the developments on the ground, HRW reminded that Iraq is obligated under international law “from recruiting and using children under 18.”
“As parties to the conflict, the US and other coalition members should pressure Iraq’s government and Iraqi militias to end child recruitment, immediately demobilize children, work to reintegrate them, and appropriately penalize commanders responsible for recruiting children, including those who volunteer,” HRW said.
“This doesn’t seem to be an exception in Iraq, and it seems to be a norm under this Iraqi government,” Jarrar Raed, an Iraqi-American blogger and political analyst, told RT.
“The recruitment of minors is a result of US intervention in the country and the culture of militias that have been prevailing during the last 13 years,” he stressed.
“Iraq had no militias before 2003, and many of the US partners and allies in Iraq have committed a variety of human rights violations and war crimes.”