Iraq: anti-IS militias 'enlisting children' ahead of Mosul offensive
A human rights group has said that Iraqi government-backed militias are recruiting children from camps for displaced people ahead of the long-awaited operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic state group [IS].
Human Rights Watch [HRW] released a report on Tuesday that said two tribal militias in the Kurdish region of Iraq have recruited children from a camp south of Irbil and drove them away to a town near Mosul.
The group said the recruits are intended to reinforce frontline positions in Nineveh province, where Mosul is located.
"The recruitment of children as fighters for the Mosul operation should be a warning sign for the Iraqi government," said Bill Van Esveld, HRW's senior children's rights researcher.
"The government and its foreign allies need to take action now, or children are going to be fighting on both sides in Mosul."
Witnesses told HRW that members of local Sunni militias known as the Hashd al-Ashairi (Tribal Mobilisation) took at least seven children under the age of 18 this month from the Debaga displacement camp.
Debaga camp, 40 kilometres south of Erbil, houses over 35,000 people displaced in the ongoing conflict between IS and the Iraqi government.
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The Hashd al-Ashairi are expected to play a key role in recapturing Mosul as authorities could order the controversial mainly Shia militias known as the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) to stay out of the battle.
The Shia militias have been accused of committing serious abuses and reprisal attacks against Sunnis thought to belong or to be sympathetic to IS in cities recently retaken from the jihadists.
HRW has said that militias reportedly carried out summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances and mutilated corpses during the offensive in Fallujah in May.
Iraq's prime minister has pledged that Mosul will be retaken from IS this year. After a string of territorial defeats over the past year, Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, is the last major urban territory IS holds in the country.