BASHIR, Kirkuk – The mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi forces have trained some 280 children since last year in the use of light and heavy weapons. Some may take part in fighting ISIS south of Kirkuk.
Commanders of the Hashd, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), are giving the military training in Bashir village, Kirkuk province, a Rudaw investigation revealed.
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.
The Iraqi parliament passed a law last year that recognizes the Shiite force as an official part of the Iraqi armed forces, subject to the laws of Iraq. Recruitment and use of child soldiers is prohibited internationally and under Iraqi law.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has said on more than an occasion that the Hashd are official forces of the Iraqi state.
A reported 100 child soldiers have graduated from three months of military training in Bashir village so far this year.
Last year, 180 child soldiers received training.
A representative of the Shiite authority in the village defended the decision to train children in using arms.
“These youngsters are taught martial arts and how to use weapons so that they can defend themselves and their areas,” said Sayyid Qambar Musawi, a Shiite cleric in Bashir.
“When ISIS attacked Bashir village, we suffered a lot of damage since nobody was trained to use weapons,” he continued.
The US-based Human Rights Watch has documented the prevalence of child soldiers by various armed groups in Iraq, including the Hashd al-Shaabi. In June it called on the US to return Iraq to the US’ list of governments who use child soldiers after it emerged that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had decided to remove Iraq.
Kirkuk Provincial Council has said they will form a committee to investigate the issue and call for action.
“[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 defence 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.
The Hashd al-Shaabi now has more than 20 military units in Bashir village and Taza Khurmatu town, south of Kirkuk.
Bashir initially fell to ISIS in June 2014 as the extremist group gained large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria. It was liberated in a joint operation of the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Hashd two years later.
The Peshmerga handed the village over to the Hashd after its liberation in an agreement that stipulated that Hashd forces return control to the Iraqi police in stages.