BAGHDAD: Tribal leaders in Anbar province have warned that al-Qaeda terrorists have resumed efforts to recruit children as suicide bombers. “Children die because adults send them off to die.”

In April Iraqi special forces arrested four children under the age of 14 who had apparently been recruited by al Qa’eda to carry out suicide attacks in Kirkuk. The children told the authorities they were “birds of paradise”, a name believed to be derived from the traditional Islamic belief that when children die they become birds in heaven.

Although the insurgency in Iraq has been weakened since the height of its power in 2006 and 2007, violent groups remain active. Sheikhs in Anbar, a place once synonymous with Islamic militancy, say insurgents are trying to regain their grip using local youngsters.“We believe there are some sleeper cells of al Qa’eda here, a few men who are still with them but who have been keeping themselves quiet until now,” said Sheikh Salem al Dulaimi, who lives in Zaidan, a village on the Euphrates River, near Ramadi. He heads a sahwa council, one of the tribal groups that turned against al Qa’eda and sided with US forces, a move that played a significant role in stabilising the country.

“They [al Qa’eda] have started a propaganda campaign, talking about the role for juveniles in attacking Iraqi security forces, the Americans and the sahwa councils in Anbar.

“We believe they are co-operating with the Army of Naqishbandi [a Sunni insurgent group] to recruit children as suicide bombers. The propaganda calls for boys and girls to join them.”

Sheikh al Dulaimi said that, as a result, children were increasingly being viewed with suspicion in the area. Radical Islamic militants have previously used children as a means of attacking government or US targets, according to Iraqi police and US intelligence officers.

Fears of an al Qa’eda revival are beginning to rise in Anbar province as US forces pull back from their front-line role. Violence there has increased in recent weeks and tribes that entered the sahwa movement and co-operated with US troops say they are concerned about being abandoned and, without US military assistance, more easily targeted by the militants they fought. THE NATIONAL