ABC News and the U.S. Military released footage discovered in a recent raid. The disturbing video depicted young boys being trained in the guerilla tactics of al-Qaida in Iraq. These masked, armed children conducted training exercises, executed checkpoints, and even raided a home. I was interviewed for background on this story because this is the situation that many of us have seen coming, and have been advocates for change.
A year ago, Newsweek featured a young boy brandishing an AK-47 on its cover for the story on "Iraq's Young Blood."). In this article, I warned that the millions of disengaged, out of school children in Iraq have created a fertile recruiting ground for extremists groups. After my service as a Captain in the Army's 1st Armored Division, I returned to Baghdad to attempt to address these haunting problems:
o 40% of Iraq's 25 million people are under 14 years old and 61% are under 25 years old, compared to the US where less than 35 % are under 25 years.
o Iraq's Ministry of Education estimates that only 30% of the 3.5 million Iraqi elementary-age kids are attending school now, down from 75%, as hundreds of teachers and students were killed in the sectarian violence.
o Billions of dollars are being on reconstruction, but very little, if any money is focused on youth development.
In Iraq, 12- to 15-year-olds are being paid less than $3 a day to build roadside bombs in places like Sadr City. Children are being used as look-outs and trigger men for insurgent attacks. Iraq's children are being trained in military tactics instead of being trained to rebuild their culture and society.
I decided to run for Congress after working in Washington for over two years developing real solutions like work/study programs and crafting an international youth policy to bring these issues to Capitol Hill and the State Department. Unfortunately, Washington didn't listen to our pleas.
Washington's broken politics have led to a serious deterioration of our national security and led to the situation in the Middle East where 10-years-olds are being trained as the junior mujahadeen. This continued short-sighted vision fails to see the long-term consequences of our policies that are creating a generation of young men and women who are being trained to hate America.
We had an opportunity to engage Iraq's children in programs of positive development which would enable millions of young people to be a part of a prospering society. Poor post-invasion planning and execution wasted that opportunity. Now, instead of training the future of Iraq to use tools to rebuild their country, they are being trained to use weapons to destroy it.
If this does not change we will be fighting these children-turned-adults for generations to come. The cycle of war will continue unabated.
The 2008 election represents an opportunity to change this cycle of destruction by supporting candidates who will work to reform how we approach our national security.
Iraqi youth face a monumental challenge in the months and years and decades to come, as they strive to overcome a shared childhood plagued by violence. Along the way, they will face numerous decisions about where to place their allegiance as their country struggles to rebuild itself after decades of tyranny and now occupation. Extremists have a head start in recruiting Iraq's future generations to be part of the current struggle, but it is not too late to alter history. The future of Iraq, and of the region, and of our country depends to a large degree on the opportunities that young men and women will have to help shape their country's development.
As an Iraq war veteran, I have seen firsthand the consequences of our failed approach to national security and I pledge to you that I will reform it. I will work to develop a thorough, well-structured plan to engage the millions of young people in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, and work to give them the tools to rebuild their county instead of the weapons to destroy it.