Children of jihad: ISIS parades its boy soldiers as fanatics close in on Baghdad
- Militants released image of a child no older than five wielding a mortar shell
- Another image shows a smiling boy brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle
- Photos released hours after IS extremists captured key Iraqi city of Ramadi
Standing barefoot and decked out in desert camouflage, this little boy looks like so many others his age who enjoy playing soldiers.
But in fact the disturbing image shows this child – no more than five years old – is not just playing at war.
Wielding a mortar shell – a potentially lethal piece of munitions – he is being used as a pawn by Islamic State to further their barbaric cause.
The photo was released on an IS-related social media account on Monday, alongside several graphic images of its victims on the streets of Ramadi just hours after jihadis captured the key Iraqi city less than 70 miles from Baghdad.
Another photo showed a smiling little boy brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Reports suggest the militants have threatened children’s families until their parents let their sons join IS’s twisted crusade.
IS fighters carried out mass executions in Ramadi on Monday, leaving mutilated bodies filling the streets, after they forced the Iraqi army into a humiliating retreat.
Experts fear the capture of Ramadi, a gateway to Baghdad, leaves IS in a position to launch strikes against the capital – using weapons abandoned by the Iraqi military.
Iranian-backed Shia militias who have been instructed to retake the city, which is in a Sunni-dominated region, were said to be gathering at a base 20 miles away.
Any offensive will be backed by US air strikes, putting Washington in the uncomfortable position of providing support for fighters backed by Tehran. IS militants were last night said to be marching east towards the militia base.
Professor Gareth Stansfield, a Middle East and Islamic world expert and adviser to the Royal United Services Institute, said: ‘Baghdad is in some ways already surrounded but now it’s lost Ramadi, this now brings the spectre of IS extremely close to Baghdad.
‘We’re in for a very long summer of fighting in Iraq and IS could make their move in the next month.
‘Taking Ramadi will … make the Shia militia in Baghdad even more radicalised and more dangerous.
‘And this is what IS wants, it wants it to come out and have a sectarian scrap which forces all the Sunnis to go towards IS.’
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi had been reluctant to deploy the Shia militias in Ramadi for fear of alienating local Sunnis.
He had ordered his elite regular forces not to retreat. But he was left humiliated as his army was overrun.
Video posted online showed truckloads of Iraqi soldiers speeding out of Ramadi in a chaotic retreat, leaving behind an arsenal including tanks, missile launchers and artillery provided by US forces.
An IS statement said it had ‘purged the entire city’ and captured the Iraq army’s command centre for the province.
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