By Jamie Findlater
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 14, 2007 - Terrorists in Iraq are preying on the country's juveniles, a top Army commander there said today. "Terrorists will continue to prey on juveniles unless these kids are given messages that outweigh the messages of the insurgents," Army Brig. Gen. Michael R. Nevin, commander of 177th Military Police Brigade, said in a call with online journalists and "bloggers."
More than 900 juveniles are in coalition custody in Iraq. Ninety percent of these detainees are 15, 16 or 17, and were detained as security detainees, meaning they posed an "imperative" security risk to the government in Iraq or to coalition forces.
"The vast majority were induced into this behavior because they were offered money, given guns, and told they are part of a larger brotherhood," Nevin explained. "Very few have any ideology whatsoever."
As a result, many are incredibly receptive to the education they receive in the detention centers, he said. "They have shown an ability and willingness to want to learn. They are paying attention to their Iraqi instructors and participating," he said.
In addition, they are given the opportunity to think about the world and are exposed to a new sense of hope about what the future may hold for them. "They know that there will be a future," Nevin said.
The program has a set curriculum with a semesters and divided school levels, and teachers come from a variety of backgrounds and are very experienced, he explained. "We have teachers from the Iraqi school system, as well as other countries that teach the basic curriculum," he said.
Of particular interest is the programs' instruction concerning religious and ideological training, Nevin said. "The whole approach in the religious discussion is basically, 'Well guys, you know how to read, so let's sit down and let's read the Koran and read it out loud and listen to it. What does that mean to you?"
"The imams (Muslim religious leaders) emphasize what is not in the Koran as much as they emphasize what is in there" Nevin said. "We make sure that everyone comes away with an understanding that killing innocent people is not something condoned by the Koran, that women and children are deserving of protection, and that violence is not an authorized technique by the Koran," he said.
Detainees are encouraged to have lengthy discussions, and the imams guide these discussions appropriately, he added.
Family visits are also a key part of the program. "We have monthly visits where family members can come in and meet with juveniles," Nevin explained. "They (the families) tell them that what they are learning is valuable and to take advantage of the opportunity they are offered."
In touting the success of the program, Nevin explained that the main challenge now is continuing to develop efforts to nurture and encourage the detainees once they are released back into society. "Were trying to encourage the communities in Iraq to provide opportunities for juveniles on release, which is imperative so that they are not forced to go back to their old ways," he explained.
Nevin said progress he is seeing in the juvenile program is representative of efforts to silence extremists throughout the country. "Our facilities are a microcosm for the country overall," he said. "We have in close proximity people of different religious sects and different political viewpoints. ... We are empowering the moderate voices to drown out the extremists. That's pretty much what's going on in the entire country.
"Overall, this is groundbreaking work that we are doing over here," Nevin explained. "We may just be re-inventing a significant portion of warfighting."
(Jamie Findlater works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)