Teens, Children Aiding Iraqi Insurgents
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The U.S. is also trying to find solutions in Iraq. And we're going next to an insurgent stronghold in the western part of that country. It's the city of Ramadi. It's dominated by Sunni Muslims who prospered under Saddam and have backed an insurgency ever since. Turns out many of their recruits include teenagers or children.
NPR's Tom Bowman reports.
TOM BOWMAN: Ibrahim Mohamed Abraham(ph) is in high demand. He was a college student when he was approached by Islamist fighters. They told him as a Muslim, he must join the battle against American troops and Iraqi government forces.
Mr. IBRAHIM MOHAMED ABRAHAM (Iraqi Police Recruit): (Through translator) By force, they tried to make us join them because we were not joining them. They've kidnapped two of my cousins, and my cousins escaped, leaving their vehicles behind.
BOWMAN: Abraham is 19. A Puma jogging suit covers his slight frame. He has just joined an Iraqi police unit. Many other teenagers or children much younger have joined or were forced to join the insurgency. There are a growing number of reports of young Iraqis taking part in attacks in and around Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province. Some children serve as spotters for insurgent snipers. Others dig holes and place IEDs, the deadly roadside bombs that account for 70 percent of American casualties in Iraq.
Army Major Eric Remoy.
Major ERIC REMOY (U.S. Army): We've had as young as eight years old involved in IED emplacement.
BOWMAN: Remoy pulls out a manila folder. It's an incident report on a roadside bomb attack. The blast left a massive crater. Inside: the twisted wreckage of a Humvee and three dead Americans. A photograph shows the alleged culprit - a doe-eyed, somewhat bewildered-looking 16-year-old Iraqi boy.
Maj. REMOY: You know, when you look at his face, he doesn't look like, you know, a hardened criminal. He doesn't look like a terrorist. He looks like any kid from Middle America - bright-eyed hope for the future, you know, kind of a scraggly mustache as any 16-year-old kid trying to grow a mustache and be like everybody else would look like.
BOWMAN: On the day of the bombing, the Americans say the teenager sat in a second-story bedroom window. It gave him a perfect view of the street where convoys traveled. A photograph shows a 12-volt car battery that includes a triggering device, which they say he detonated.
Maj. REMOY: Next to the battery is a diaper hamper, and then on the other side of the battery is a baby stroller - so clearly, the upstairs kids' room, where all the young children in the house would have been.
BOWMAN: Remoy says the household included nine females - mostly children - and a 16-year-old boy. American officials say it's unusual there was no adult male in the home, but one State Department official here has an explanation. Intense fighting in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah has killed many Iraqi men, leaving boys without fathers. And in this extremely traditional society, tribal law often dictates blood for blood revenge killings. When the 16-year-old Iraqi boy was pulled into the insurgent cell, there was no evidence money was involved. Major Remoy says it was all about a sense of belonging.
Maj. REMOY: The story that we get through the human reporting and the interrogation is really kind of almost a cry for acceptance, you know, and looking for something to be part of.
BOWMAN: Remoy says after four years of fighting in Anbar, violence has become a part of life for young Iraqis.
Maj. REMOY: The role model for what you want to be when you grow up, you know, is the noble jihadist who's fighting the great evil and the great Satan from the West.
BOWMAN: The 16-year-old implicated in the bombing has been sent to Camp Cropper, the American detention facility near the Baghdad airport. He will eventually end up in the Iraqi juvenile justice system. Major Remoy says much younger suspects - some as young as eight years old - are often turned over to their tribal sheikhs, who promise to keep watch over them.
Sheikh Awad Ali Hussein(ph) of the Abu Theeb tribe disagrees with Major Remoy about what motivates children caught up in the insurgency. Many of them do it for money, he says.
Sheikh AWAD ALI HUSSEIN (Abu Theeb Tribe): (Through translator) They used to come to the child, and they say here's $2, $4, $5 - just place this IED in a particular place. Children did not know what they were doing, and they just accepted the money for the sake of the money.
BOWMAN: A teacher in the violent eastern part of Ramadi agrees. Children take part in the insurgency for money, she says, or to avenge family members who were killed by American troops.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Ramadi.