- As fighting in Gaza rages on, Kerry’s credibility questioned
- New Englander Scott Brown turns his gaze to the U.S. border crisis
- Toronto’s Rob Ford takes rehabbed self to kids’ playground for political props
- Sen. Joe Manchin sued by his brother over old loan: report
- New Mexico decides to use HealthCare.gov for 2015
- Satanists to use Hobby Lobby rule to skirt state abortion laws
- White House: No choice but to act now on climate change
- HHS: ‘Donut hole’ reforms saved Medicare enrollees $11.5 billion since 2010
- Boston-area tornado rips 100 homes: ‘Are we in Kansas?’
- Rush Limbaugh: ‘There is no journalism anymore’
Toy guns aren’t child’s play for Iraq’s military
Question of the Day
Two boys approached a U.S. soldier, pulled out a pistol and handed it over. They got a smile and some candy in return. The gun was plastic, and the boys were following a local Iraqi military order to surrender all toy weapons - an effort to prevent children from being mistaken for insurgents.
With more children on the streets now that violence is down, American soldiers have a new mission in this former "Triangle of Death" city south of Baghdad: clearing all toy guns from the bustling shopping area as they search for suspected insurgents and weapons caches.
The toy-gun ban shows how jittery the U.S. and Iraqi forces still are in a country where the enemy doesn't wear a uniform.
The U.S. warned early this year of a "disturbing trend" of al Qaeda in Iraq recruiting and teaching young boys to kidnap and kill. The military released several videos seized from suspected al Qaeda hide-outs in Diyala province north of the capital showing militants training children who appeared as young as 10.
Teenagers have carried out actual attacks. On Dec. 1, a teenage suicide bomber followed by a parked car bomb struck police recruits in Baghdad, killing 16 people. On Jan. 20, a teenager carrying a box of candy blew himself up at a gathering of tribal members near Fallujah, killing six people.
From a distance, a soldier can't tell whether a weapon is real and has to make a fast decision that could cost someone his or her life.
Soldiers in the Mahmoudiyah area recently became alarmed when they saw a boy pointing a gun that looked very realistic. They went on alert and held the child until it was determined that the gun was a toy.
"This is one of the biggest issues that we're encountering right now," said Lt. Cameron Mays, 24, of Marion, Ky. "Right now, it's a gray area. You're talking about a prime situation, where a U.S. soldier has a split-second to make a decision about whether there's a danger."
The order to ban toy guns in Mahmoudiyah and surrounding areas was handed down by Staff Maj. Gen. Ali Jassim al-Freiji, the commander of the Iraqi army's 17th Division, which oversees the region.
1st Lt. Tray Marsh, who took the plastic pistol, congratulated the boys for doing the right thing as he and other U.S. soldiers began a joint foot patrol with their Iraqi counterparts through the city's main market area on Wednesday. The gun was black and had a red cap.
Members of Delta Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, based in Fort Riley, Kan., have collected some 15 plastic weapons this month, piling them up on filing cabinets and hanging some on the walls in their office at the U.S. base at Mahmoudiyah.
Lt. Marsh, 34, of Shreveport, La., later showed another gun from the plastic-weapons cache that could easily be mistaken for a real nickel-plated .45-caliber pistol from a distance.
There's no punishment for having a toy gun. The soldiers will just take them away if they find them and perhaps talk to the parents to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Going after toys is somewhat of a welcome change for the soldiers - many of whom are on at least their second tour in Iraq and participated in the fierce fighting that raged as recently as this spring. Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of the capital, is part of a region that was long known as the "Triangle of Death" because of ongoing battles between Sunni and Shi'ite extremists.
British soldiers in the southern Iraqi province of Basra also have become concerned about children playing with toy guns, although no ban has been imposed.
The British military issued a public-safety announcement on Friday asking parents not to allow their children to play with toy guns on the streets "in case security forces mistake them for real weapons and open fire."
Maj. Bill Young, a British military spokesman, said the issue was coming up for the first time since the war started nearly six years ago - perhaps because of a possible influx of toy guns or because better security is encouraging people to spend more time outdoors.
"Maybe last year children wouldn't have been out on the ground and their parents wouldn't have let them play with the toy guns," he said. "But there is still a risk with a significant number of British and Iraqi troops on the ground with weapons."
Military officials said it was up to Iraqi authorities to impose such bans as part of local security measures. Iraq has no law forbidding ownership of real guns, and every household is permitted to have one firearm for self-defense.
But nobody likes to see a child cry - and even battle-weary soldiers have a soft spot.
Lt. Mays stopped short during Wednesday's market tour after getting a call on his radio about the latest discovery, then doubled back to the soldiers hovering around the toddler cradling the toy gun.
Iraqi company commander 1st Lt. Mouwaffak Mohammed al-Janabi talked his American counterpart into letting the boy keep the toy, saying his father had been killed by an insurgent.
"OK, but that's the last time. We've got to support General Ali's orders," Lt. Mays said.
- GOP Senate candidate: Obama needs to visit Central America
- Border surge puts Obama legacy on immigration at stake
- Obama thanks Muslims for 'building the very fabric of our nation'
- D.C. seeks to stay judge's order allowing gun owners to carry in public
- Hillary Clinton: Forget Obama, George W. Bush made her 'proud to be an American'
- White House: No choice but to act now on climate change
- Smugglers, rainstorm combine to poke holes in border fence
- Illegal immigrants demand representation in White House meetings
- Man killed in plane crash was on anniversary trip
- Romney would win popular vote in rematch against Obama: CNN poll - Washington Times#.U9ZSgi7-CXU.twi
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world