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Iraq insurgents use teens in attacks, US military says

Militants hope young recruits avoid security

By Kim Gamel
Associated Press / June 7, 2009
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BAGHDAD - Insurgents are increasingly using teenagers to stage attacks against American and Iraqi security forces, the US military said yesterday.

At least five youths between 14 and 19 have been involved in grenade and suicide attacks in recent weeks in northern Iraq, according to a military statement.

The military has frequently said it believes Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups are recruiting youths and women because of their ability to avoid scrutiny and evade heightened security measures.

But yesterday's statement was the first to provide detailed allegations of specific teenage attackers. It said a teenage boy threw a grenade at a joint US-Iraqi patrol in Hawijah, west of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, on Thursday and then fled the scene when it failed to detonate.

Nobody was harmed in that attack. Two US soldiers were killed in separate grenade attacks elsewhere in the area on Thursday, although it was not known who was responsible for the incidents.

The Thursday attack by the teenager came days after a 15-year-old boy lobbed a grenade at another US-Iraqi patrol in the same city. One vehicle was damaged and the boy was captured, the military said.

A boy between 14 and 16 threw a grenade at a joint convoy of US soldiers and Iraqi police in Hawijah on May 26, but no injuries or damage were reported, according to the statement.

The military also said a boy as young as 14 was the driver in a suicide car bombing that killed five Iraqi policemen in Kirkuk on May 12.

Also in the oil-rich city, a 19-year-old was arrested by Iraqi police while trying to detonate a suicide vest at a Shi'ite mosque on May 1, the statement said.

The militant groups are trying to take advantage of the fact "that children do not draw as much attention and soldiers do not want to harm them," US officers said in the statement.

Four alleged members of a group known to recruit children were arrested on April 14, the military said.

Children who are hurt while carrying out insurgent activities are also being used in insurgent propaganda campaigns, the military said.

The United Nations also has expressed concern that rising numbers of Iraqi youths have been recruited into militias and insurgent groups. The UN called them "silent victims of the continued violence." There have also been several recent suicide bombings by women.

The US military released several videos last year seized from suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq hide-outs that showed militants training children who appeared as young as 10 to kidnap and kill. Children have also been used as decoys in Iraq.

Violence has decreased sharply in Iraq, and militants have been forced to find new ways to penetrate the maze of checkpoints and concrete walls in Baghdad and other cities.