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News Story

U.N. reports children used as combatants in Iraq


Reports cites human rights violations on all sides



January 19, 2006

The United Nations on Wednesday called attention to a disturbing trend in the Iraq war: child insurgents.

"Of particular concern are reports of attacks involving children acting as combatants," the world body said in its report, written by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq.

"A boy said to be aged between 10 and 13 years allegedly carried out a suicide bombing targeting the police commander in the city of Kirkuk. Later that month, two boys aged 12 and 13 years reportedly carried out attacks against [U.S.-led forces] in Fallujah and Hweeja, respectively."

The report is apparently referring to the town Hawija, which is southeast of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. Falluja is in western Iraq.

Over the years, human rights groups have raised the alarm over child soldiers and combatants in other conflicts, including those in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Uganda.

The report, which covers November 1 through December 31, estimates that 20 percent of all civilian deaths in the Iraq war are women and children.

An October Pentagon report roughly estimated that nearly 26,000 Iraqis were killed or wounded by insurgent attacks between January of 2004 through September 16, 2005.

Iraqi children are "gravely affected" by the ongoing violence, the U.N. report said.

"Scores of children have been killed in indiscriminate bombings and by indirect fire," the report said. "Some surveys suggest that a large number of children in Iraq have lost one or both parents as well as close family members to violence."

The report touches on a range of rights violations in Iraq, the longstanding insurgent attacks, violence surrounding the December 15 election and problems involving the Interior Ministry.

"The persistent conflicts affecting the country and weaknesses in law enforcement continue to have a serious and adverse effect on the enjoyment of human rights," it said. "Ongoing attacks by armed groups, acts of terrorism, violent crimes, large-scale arbitrary arrests and evidence of mistreatment in detention centers together presented a pattern of major human-rights violations."

Key points

  • Coalition military operations "in the run-up to the December elections" contributed to "increasing numbers of detainees without access to judicial review." The United Nations is also concerned about "death, injury and displacement of noncombatants as well as damage to civilian property and facilities."
  • The insurgency is undermining the Iraqi government with its daily attacks targeting civilians, politicians, religious leaders and mosques.
  • Kidnappings persist in places like Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, with "the plight of Iraqi victims" fostering "less attention despite involving a higher number of hostages." In contrast, the "abduction of foreign nationals has been widely publicized."
  • The report cites violence ahead of the December 15 elections, a concern of politicians who have made complaints about the way the election was handled. Violence includes reports of assassinations and campaign worker intimidation. On the other hand, the United Nations' Iraqi mission was encouraged by efforts to allow detainees to vote.
  • The report cited the abuse at the detention centers run by the Interior Ministry and noted the government inquiries into the issue, an issue that UNAMI says it regularly has raised.
  • There are claims that the hospital in Tal Afar, the northwestern town where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling insurgents, has been occupied by U.S. and Iraqi troops. The hospital is "limiting patients' access to the facility and putting at risk the lives of staff and drivers observed by insurgent forces entering the hospital premises."
  • "Water and electricity supplies were badly disrupted" in western Iraq, where the U.S. launched counter-insurgency operations.
  • The issue of proper protection for people involved in the Saddam Hussein trial was cited after the killings of two defense attorneys.
  • "A protection package was offered and facilitated -- in part -- the return to court of most lawyers when proceedings resumed on 28 November. At that time, two of the accused were left without legal representation, and the Trial Chamber properly adjourned proceedings until replacement counsel agreeable to the accused could be found."

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