Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 22,450,000
    – under-18s: 10,853,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 429,000
    – reserves: 650,000
    – paramilitary: 45,000-50,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18; younger during war
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 15 (unclear)
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government armed forces; some 3,000 in Kurdish opposition groups in 1998
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC; ILO 138
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces. Reports suggest that children participated with Iraqi forces in the Gulf War and the Iran-Iraq war. The militarisation of children is currently widespread through military-style youth organizations. Kurdish groups are also known to use child soldiers, the youngest being only seven years old.


During the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980's, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan launched sustained insurgency in the north of Iraq. In more recent years, Kurdish parties have continued with intermittent insurgency against the Iraqi government, but intra-Kurdish infighting has been more prevalent. The intra-Kurdish conflict has been complicated by the Kurdish Workers' Party, which has used northern Iraq to launch attacks against Turkey.

In 1990, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait led to the Gulf War, in which Iraqi forces were driven out of Kuwait by a multi-national force. The international community established a UN-sponsored weapons inspection regime, "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq (backed by periodic bombardments by US-led forces in the region), and heavy reparations. A sanctions regime has also been implemented, with catastrophic effects on the Iraqi population, particularly children.


National Recruitment Legislation

Article 31 of the Constitution states "The defence of the homeland is a sacred duty and honour for the citizens; conscription is compulsory and regulated by the law."934 The legal basis of conscription is the 1969 Military Service Act, together with several subsequent resolutions made by the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). In times of peace, all men between 18 and 45 are liable for military service. In times of war, the RCC may determine who to conscript.935

Military service is normally for two years, or 1½ years in the case of university students and college graduates. During wartime, the RCC can extend the length of service indefinitely. Students can postpone military service until completing their studies, but not during times of war.936

According to some sources Iraq accepts voluntary recruits from the age of 15.937 Admission to the officer academy for formal military training is possible from the age of 16. Since the course is only one year, some officers in the armed forces can be as young as 17.938

Military Training and Military Schools

Children have participated in repeated and wide-scale mobilisation and training schemes carried out by the Iraqi government since 1991. In 1998, a military-preparedness project was adopted to equip all those aged between 15 and 65 with the basics of self-defence and the use of small arms. Iraqis were reportedly required to conduct drill exercises and to assemble and dismantle machine-guns and rifles for two hours every day over a period of forty days,.939

In recent years, the Iraqi government launched campaigns to introduce military training for school children between the ages of 12 and 17. The Iraqi authorities have arranged two sessions, "Raad" and "Al Anfal", for a total of 23,000 children. Children are reportedly taken to boot camps for three weeks and are trained in light arms and Ba'ath ideology.940 Iraqi opposition sources and the US State Department have reported that students who fail to join military camps face various sanctions.941

According to the Iraqi magazine, Alef-Ba, thousands of boys as young as 10 have graduated from a military training programme educating them in the use of weaponry. Col. Reza Mezal Hamd commander of the Baghdad camp claimed that "Some families tried to get their less then 10-year-old boys in the training course, but we refused to do that because they are too young." The training was designed to prepare boys for unspecified emergencies.942

Special militarised organisations for youths also exist. Founded in 1975, Futuwah (Youth Vanguard) was a Ba'ath party initiative aimed at creating a paramilitary organisation for secondary-school students. Boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18 could join and receive training in the use of light arms. By early 1988, several thousand Iraqi youth had volunteered. Drafting young students became unpopular, and the loss of young life later created labour force shortages.943 The Futuwah units took part in fighting against Iran between 1983 and 1985. During the Gulf War in 1990-91 journalists noted that boys as young as 12 were part of the Iraqi military and photographed them training with Kalashnikov rifles.944

The Ashbal Saddam (Saddam Lion Cubs) youth movement was formed after the 1991 Gulf War. There are an estimated 8,000 child members of Saddam Cubs in Baghdad alone.945 According to the US State Department, thousands of boys between the ages of 10 and 15 were recruited into a military training program called "Saddam's Youth". The programme operated from 14 camps in Iraq, and was designed to prepare boys for national emergencies.946 Training courses reportedly include small-arms use, hand-to-hand combat, and infantry tactics for children from 10 to 15 years of age, for up to 14 hours per day.947


Child Recruitment and Deployment

There are several Kurdish and other armed opposition groups based in northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey which have been fighting their respective governments and amongst themselves for decades. While it is difficult to confirm reports, several of these movements have reportedly recruited children as soldiers. According to one source, children as young as 12 took part in the Kurdish liberation movement in Iraq, "while a substantial amount were in their mid teens."948

  • Kurdish Workers Party (PKK): 500-10,000 active949 plus militia of 50,000

The PKK is based in Turkey and has training camps in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as in the mountainous region close to the Turkish and Iranian borders.950 The PKK issued a military service law in 1990 by which every Kurdish youth aged 18 to 25 without exception was obliged to join the PKK army. Compulsory recruitment was later ended as due to sufficient voluntary recruitment. From 1994, it appears that the PKK began systematically and increasingly child recruitment, and children's regiments were even created. A children's battalion named Tabura Zaroken Sehit Agit, for instance, was composed of three divisions and was, in theory at least, run by a committee of five children aged between 8 and 12.951

Following the PKK attack on the Kurdish Democratic Party in 1995 the PKK reportedly lost as many as 1,000 guerrillas, many of whom were boys and girls according to KDP sources.952 In 1997 a 14-year-old Syrian girl was one of several female guerrillas taken prisoner by the Turkish army during an offensive in Turkey's Cudi Mountains. She had joined the PKK the previous year and received political and military training at a PKK camp in northern Iraq.953 In 1998, the PKK was reported to have 3,000 children in its ranks, more than 10 per cent of whom were girls. The youngest child reported among the PKK was 7 years old.954

  • Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK): 10,000 active, 22,000 reserve tribesmen955

The PUK was established in July 1975 and has intermittently been supported by Iran and Turkey. The PUK reportedly uses children as young as 10 as soldiers.956

  • Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP): 15,000 active, 25,000 reserve tribesmen957

The KDP has been fighting against the Iraqi government since 1975. There is no information on the use of child soldiers by this group.

  • Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution In Iraq (SCIRI): 4,000 active958

SCIRI was formed in November 1982 as a coalition of Shi'a Islamist parties opposed to the Iraqi Ba'ath party with the aim of toppling the government of Saddam Hussein.959 There is no evidence that SCIRI uses children as soldiers.

934 Iraq's constitution.

935 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

936 Report of the Secretary General, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1997/99 op. cit.


938 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

939 Richard Downes "Iraqi Army Starts Mass Training", BBC, 28/10/98.

940 Referring to the 1968 revolution which brought Saddam Hussein's wing of the Ba'th party to power.

941 US State Department Human Rights Report 2000.

942 RB Childwar database, citing AP, 13/8/97.

943 Ibid.

944 Ibid. p 219.

945 US State Department op. cit.

946 "10-year- olds given military training", Children in Arms, 3/1997, RB.

947 US State Department op. cit.

948 Victoria Sherrow, Encyclopaedia of Youth and War: Young People as participants and Victims Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 2000 p.159.

949 IISS, p.142, Waxman, D.

950 Martin van Bruinessen, " Turkey, Europe and the Kurds after the Capture of Abdullah", Utrecht, 4/99.

951 Ismet, I. G.,.

952 RB, Children of War, No. 2, Stockholm, 1996.

953 Couturier, C., "Kurdish rebels send teenagers to war: Turkish soldiers say they are gaining the initiative in the war on the south", Financial Times, 28/6/97.

954 RB, Children of War, No. 3, Stockholm, 1998.

955 IISS, p.141.

956 Radio News Report, Swedish Radio, Morgonekot, 16/9/96.

957 IISS, p.141.

958 IISS, p.142. SCIRI is also known as SAIRI, the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

959 Federation of American Scientists op. cit.


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