Iraq, Baghdad – The international media broadcast news of the creation of a new tribal force in Iraq, the Al-Sahwa, or “Awakening” Forces, with much fanfare. It has been repeatedly said that they are the newest, if not last best, hope to repair the security situation in Iraq generally, and Sunni areas particularly. However, one thing the international media has not paid much attention to is the age of the Fighters in the new Al-Sahwa Forces.
Many towns around Al-Anbar and Baghdad Provinces as well as others have witnessed the creation of “Al-Sahwa Councils.” The aim of this force is to protect the people living in these areas and to force Al-Qaeda out of their areas by working side by side with American forces, and according to tribal traditions everyone from any tribe taking part in the council should participate in this force. Some interpretations of Islamic tradition consider individuals as young as 15 to be an adult. Sources have told Alive in Baghdad that they have witnessed children between the age of 12 and 17 taking part in the Al-Sahwa forces, particularly in Adhamiya and Taji. These children are not believed to have any military training prior to joining Al-Sahwa, but are now paid up to 300 US dollars per month to carry a gun and take shifts manning checkpoints or on various patrols, depending on the area.
In other cites such as Najaf and Karbala where the influence of of the Mahdi Army has been quite strong, you can also observe a high number of very young fighters, those fighters were trained by other members of the Mahdi Army who are sometimes only slightly older, with a variety of weapons such as the AK-47, RPG7, and others. According to our sources, the age of these fighters has been between 13 and 18 years old. The Mahdi Army named this force, “Aosood Al-Hussein” which means the “Lions of Hussein,” the aim of this brigade is to protect some neighborhoods and some of the religious areas which are sacred to Shi’a.
Both the Mahdi Army and the Sahwa Councils consider these children to be heroes for protecting their country and helping their families financially. Some of their families are thinking the same way, unfortunately they don’t look to the risk that is surrounding them from carbomb attacks or being killed by other militias, any teenager who joins the Mahdi Army receive a salary that is between 150 and 300 dollars, depending on their position and what work they perform. According to our sources, the same amount is the average for the Sahwa Forces as well.
Alive in Baghdad brings you some interviews with some of these fighters, and the question we’re left wondering is whether $300 is worth it to work in a dangerous position rather than getting educated and going to school?