September 20, 2006

Hiding Behind Children

Whether inspired by Hamas and Hezbollah or Sunni and Shiite terror leaders in Iraq, it's hard to see attempts such as these to use children as bait or targets with anything other than abject contempt:

Shiite militias are encouraging children — some as young as 6 or 7 — to hurl stones and gasoline bombs at U.S. convoys, hoping to lure American troops into ambushes or provoke them into shooting back, U.S. soldiers say.

Gangs of up to 100 children assemble in Sadr City, stronghold of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, and in nearby neighborhoods, U.S. officers said in interviews this week.

American soldiers have seen young men, their faces covered by bandanas, talking with the children before the rock-throwing attacks begin — and sometimes handing out slingshots so the volleys will be more accurate, the troops said.

"It's like a militia operation. They'll mass rocks on the last or second-to-last vehicle" in a U.S. patrol, said Capt. Chris L'Heureux, 30, of Woonsocket, R.I. "There's no doubt in my mind that they're utilizing these kids in a deliberate, thought-out way."

The U.S. military is of course ignoring the attacks thus far. Armored combat vehicles are not threatened by rocks, but it is probably only a matter of time until the same militiamen stoop to an even lower level.

As U.S. forces refuse to be baited by children armed with rocks, it is probably only a matter of time before they arm one of these children with a grenade, knowing that a 6 or 7 year old will not be able to throw the one-pound weapons far enough to keep from killing or wounding themselves.

The deaths of these children--caused directly by al-Sadr's militiamen--will be blamed upon coalition forces in a "Pallywood" production in an attempt to further inflame tensions in an area where al-Sadr's "Mahdi Army" of rag-tag militiamen and death squads are coming under increasing pressure from U.S. and Iraqi Army forces.

There are two ways of resolve this style of cowardly attack before deaths result from the militia's use of children, one military, and one social.

Militarily, U.S. and Iraqi forces--especially Iraqi Army forces--must step up the tempo of operations inside the Sadr City slums of Baghdad, arresting and if necessary killing Muqtada al-Sadr and other leaders of the Madhi Army.

At the same time, Iraqi police and military units need to go on a public relations offensive in Sadr City, informing mothers and fathers of how al-Sadr's militiamen are using their children as bait. It is quite possible that some parents support the cowardly acts of the al Sadr militiamen, but I suspect many will respond with anger towards the militia and their children's too willing participation as did the one mother mentioned in the article:

After several rocks were thrown at passing U.S. vehicles in Shaab, soldiers followed one child home. When soldiers told his mother what had happened, she slapped her son across the face in front of them.

A smart P.R. campaign waged by Shiite soldiers in the Iraqi Army can turn the militia's cowardice and scheming against them, driving a wedge between al Sadr and the people he would use to consolidate his own power. One can only hope that the Iraqi Army is smart enough to realize that this potential for tragedy can be turned into an opportunity to strengthen ties between the Iraqi Army and those they would protect.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at September 20, 2006 10:17 AM | TrackBack