Iraqi Kids Drawn Into Violent Jihad

A video that Iraqis are sharing via e-mail and cell phones shows young boys re-enacting the hanging of Saddam Hussein, child's play in the Iraq.

In this country where nearly 50 percent of the population is under 18, a new generation is being raised on violence.

"A lot of my friends have been killed by explosions," said Zeen, who has undergone eight operations on his legs after he was hit by a terrorist bomb.

The violence has turned many Baghdad neighborhoods into ghost towns and is keeping a staggering number of children out of school.

The Education Ministry states elementary school attendance rates dropped from 75 percent in 2005 to 30 percent last year.

Mutabar said he dropped out of school to work at an auto shop after a bomb paralyzed his father.

"I left school … to work so I can help my family survive," said Hassan, who collects and sells scrap metal instead of going to school.

Lack of Education Poses Dangers

All that free time for kids out of school could lead to a dangerous choice for some.

Jonathan Powers, a former Army captain who served in Iraq, said insurgents and militias often recruit these children to act as scouts or to plant bombs.

"These aren't kids who are terrorists or extremists," he said. "These are kids who have nothing else to do. Because they can't get to school, there's no clubs for them to join, they're being brought into this community of jihad."

Powers now heads War Kids Relief , which offers youth programs in Iraq.

"If the current trends continue and we continue to lose these kids, they will become the next jihadists, and we'll be back fighting them in the Middle East over the next few decades," Powers said.

Without massive investment by the U.S. and Iraqi governments, he believes, the warping of a generation will continue.

But for Mutabar it is not too late for change. "I dream of going back to school," he said. "The teacher showed me how to read and write."