A Baghdad-sanctioned umbrella organization in Iraq, made up mainly of Iran-backed Shiite militiamen, has trained about 280 child soldiers in the use of weapons, Rudaw has found.
A Shiite cleric has reportedly defended the military training of children in Iraq by Iran-allied fighters.
“These youngsters are taught martial arts and how to use weapons so that they can defend themselves and their areas,” argued Sayyid Qambar Musawi, a Shiite cleric in Kirkuk province’s Bashir village where the training is reportedly taking place.
Fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and Hashd al-Shaabi, are participating in U.S.-backed operations against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq.
In November of last year, the Iraqi government legalized the Iran-backed PMF as an official component of the country’s military.
International and Iraqi laws prohibit the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Nevertheless, an investigation by Kurdish news outlet Rudaw has determined that the Iran-allied PMF has “trained some 280 children since last year in the use of light and heavy weapons.”
“A reported 100 child soldiers have graduated from three months of [PMF] military training in Bashir village so far this year,” reveals Rudaw. “Last year, 180 child soldiers received training.”
“The children are under 18 years old. They are seen in military uniforms, receiving weapons training. Those who are 15 or 16 years old are to take part in combat, if necessary,” it adds later.
Although they have joined forces against ISIS, there have been tensions in northern Iraq in recent months between the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and PMF fighters.
Groups like Human Rights Watch have accused the PMF of using child soldiers in violation of international laws.
Iraq’s Kirkuk province has vowed to form a committee to investigate the allegations.
“[We call] on civil society organizations, security institutions, and the United Nations to bring this to an end,” Jwan Hassan, head of the Human Rights Committee of Kirkuk Council, told Rudaw.
“And also to put pressure on the central government so that the ministries of interior and defense respond and ensure that children under the age of 18 are not used in fighting, or their rights violated in any shape or form,” she added.
Reportedly, there are between 100,000 and 120,000 Iran-backed PMF fighters in Iraq.
Some experts have warned that the PMF units will fuel chaos in post-ISIS Iraq.
The next time Iraq descends into a war it will be linked to the PMF, argued some analysts during the 2017 Aspen Security Forum.