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Saddam Sends Boys to Military Camps

June 28, 1999

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ With patriotic music blaring in the background, Iraqi boys nationwide said goodbye to their parents and boarded buses for summer military camps where they’ll learn to defend their country.

An estimated 60,000 boys, ages 12 to 17, were joining up, many of them excited to be going off for three weeks of light-weapons training, physical conditioning and lectures on religion, politics, culture and society.

The voluntary summer training, begun in 1994, is meant to keep boys off the streets during the school holiday and to acquaint them with war conditions.

``I insisted my parents let me go because all my friends are going, too,″ said Mohammed Rafid, 13, as he headed to the bus departing from the ruling Baath Party headquarters in Baghdad on Sunday. Others left for local camps from party offices throughout Iraq.

President Saddam Hussein has urged Iraqis to start military training and be ready to combat the American ``enemy,″ the official media reported.

``We have no other option but to train the men and to continue training,″ Saddam was quoted by the ruling Baath Party newspaper Al-Thawra as saying earlier this month.

The United States has vowed to help bring about a change in the Iraqi government. Last year, the U.S. Congress endorsed a plan to provide $95 million to Iraqi opposition groups and $2 million for anti-Saddam radio broadcasts into Iraq.

Al-Thawra quoted Saddam as saying the training goes beyond preparing boys for combat, giving them ``the impetus to face difficulties.″

The training takes place in military camps, some set up specifically for the boys, called Saddam’s Youth. The boys are considered future prospects for Saddam’s Fedayeen, who are trained to face riots and enemies from abroad.

The boys get light weapons training with AK-47s, pistols and hand grenades.