A young boys takes part in a parade of Iraqi Shiite fighters on June 21, 2014 in the central Iraqi Shiite city of Karbala. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMMED SAWAF
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No one knows for certain how many underage fighters are participating in the fighting in Iraq.But with Sunni insurgents sweeping across the country and thousands of Shiites answering a preacher's call to take up arms, there is anecdotal evidence that child fighters are being sucked into Iraq's sectarian war. Witnesses say they have frequently seen adolescents among the Sunni fighters at checkpoints in the north. The Badr Organization, a Shiite group which the youth said recruited him, denies that it fields underage fighters in its ranks.After his brief training in Iran earlier this year, the youth said he spent six weeks in the Damascus suburb of Mliha with a Shiite unit fighting against the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. Nearly half of the 130 fighters in his contingent were wounded or killed there, he says, describing intense fighting on rooftops and alleyways. Reuters was not able to find evidence of fighters that young, although there was substantial evidence of fighters close to that age and below Iraq's official recruitment age of 18 .Although the government says it takes steps to keep underage fighters out of the fray, and the Badr Organization says that it does not accept them, at one neighborhood office a Badr recruiter said that in such urgent circumstances he was taking applications from volunteers of all ages.
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