02/08/2008, 00.00
IRAQ

Iraq, terrorism runs with the legs of a child

Layla Yousif Rahema
After the release of video showing the training of children for al-Qaeda, the problem of neglected children in Iraq is returning into focus. It is not only al-Qaeda, but the religious militias are also "enlisting" children. Economic need is only the latest motivation driving children to take up rifles. The culture of weapons and violence has deep roots in the country.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Poverty, ignorance, the seduction of feeling invincible, the desire to fulfil the will of Allah, and finally becoming an adult.  There are many motivations driving Iraqi children into the ranks of al-Qaeda and the sectarian militias, but they can all essentially be explained by the deep-rooted culture of violence and weapons that spread through Iraq long before the American invasion in 2003.  Members of al-Qaeda and the Sunni and Shiite militias are exploiting this, and it takes very little for a child to find himself holding a gun and acting out attacks and kidnappings, as seen in a recent video from al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, made public two days ago. 

Poverty and ignorance

The most ordinary motivation is economic gain.  Today, al-Qaeda pays a child between 200 and 300 dollars to plant a bomb, enough to feed a family of at least five members for two or three months.  According to Iraqi and American military sources, the religious militias pay much less: 35 dollars to deliver a bomb.  Most of the time, these children come from the lower middle classes and have stopped going to school, because of poverty or lack of security.  According to information from the Iraqi education ministry, in 2007 only 30 percent of the 3.5 million school-age children attended school. 

The seduction of war

And then, for those who have seen a parent or another relative die, war represents a powerful seduction, a way to assert oneself in the absence of any alternatives. "I am grateful to the Mahdi Army (editor's note: the Shiite militia of al Sadr), because it has made me a man", says Ali, a 14 year-old Shiite boy, quoted in an article in Newsweek.  The Islamic militants are the strongest men in their world dominated by terror.  And religious factors play a decisive role here: when an adolescent hears his spiritual leader asking him to do something "in the name of God", he feels that by obeying he will leave his life as a child and become an adult capable of carrying out the will of Allah. 

The culture of violence

But behind every 'baby terrorist' there is above all the profound problem of a society that has grown up in a state of war and terror.  The roots of this reach back to before 2003. "When I was in the fifth year of middle school", recalls Yousef, a 25 year-old man from Baghdad who has emigrated to Europe, "they required us to train in the use of weapons after our classes, and those who did not participate were denounced to representatives of the Baath party at the school".  "Children now play at war the way they do with dolls or with model cars", some Iraqi parents complain.  Toy weapons are so common in the streets that last year the government expressed its "concern" in this regard, but without taking any concrete measures.  A Baghdad shopkeeper recounts that "toy rifles are by far the best-selling toy for both boys and girls".  Living in a context in which violence is "even praised" - sociology experts explain - the adolescent is convinced that with the use of weapons he can make a name for himself, a reputation, and this makes him feel strong, invincible.

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