BAGHDAD -- The three boys in black hoods and green T-shirts hold Kalashnikovs as the youngest shouts to the camera in a pre-pubescent voice: "Fight them, and God will torture them through your hands."
The videotape, found during a U.S. military raid Dec. 4 in Iraq's Diyala province, also shows about 20 boys in dark blue sports jerseys jumping walls and storming houses. One scene has them pulling a man from a car at gunpoint, making him kneel on the ground and pressing the barrel of a pistol against his neck.
The U.S. military describes the footage shown at a news conference yesterday as a training video also meant to recruit the next generations of al-Qaida in Iraq. It was one of five videos found at the site in Khan Bani Sad showing boys, most believed to be younger than 11, being trained in how to carry out kidnappings and killings, the military said. Three suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters were detained and two others killed in the raid, it added.
"We believe the purpose of these videos was to produce training films to be promulgated throughout Iraq encouraging other youth, and presumably their parents, to begin the necessary training and indoctrination toward becoming al-Qaida terrorists proficient at carrying out violence against fellow Iraqis," Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith told reporters in Baghdad. "Al-Qaida often refers to the children as the 'new generation of the mujahedeen,'" or holy warriors.
Smith said they did not know when the video shown yesterday was filmed, and speculated that the children featured were probably from clans that belonged to al-Qaida in Iraq. He said the military did not know if the video proved that the children shown were being used as combatants.
He noted that recently two teenage boys blew themselves up in suicide attacks. Children have long been used as lookouts for fighters, and incidents of teenagers engaging in attacks have taken place in the past, the military has said.
In another raid in Diyala province, which remains a haven for al-Qaida in Iraq, U.S. soldiers discovered a script outlining scenes in which children question and execute hostages, plant bombs and fire sniper rifles, Smith said. The second raid was carried out Dec. 8 in the town of Muqdadiyah.
Smith also showed an image of a young boy wearing a vest that the military believed was a suicide belt.
The U.S. military says it has 600 children in custody and that militants were using children more and more as fighters.
Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Askari said that he suspected militants were abducting more children for ransoms and also to use as foot soldiers. He showed video at the news conference taken of a raid last week in Kirkuk, where Iraqi soldiers rescued a 11-year-old boy who had been kidnapped.
Smith also said that there had been an increase in suicide bombings by women in Iraq. Before 2007, only five women had committed such attacks. Since the beginning of last year, there have been at least 10 attacks involving women, four of them this year.
U.S. and Iraqi forces suspect that last weekend's two suicide bombings at pet markets in Baghdad were carried out by two women with Down syndrome. However, there has been no way to substantiate the claims.
Askari said that the Iraqi security forces had located the women's families, and Smith identified them as teenagers.
Also yesterday, Iraqi and U.N. officials toured a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine in northern Iraq as workers took the first steps in a long-delayed reconstruction - nearly two years after the attack on the famed golden dome became a rallying point for Shiite rage.
Crews in blue jumpsuits and orange helmets picked through mounds of rubble spilling from the mosque in Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, which became the spark for a vicious cycle of sectarian violence after the Feb. 22, 2006, blast blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq.
Ned Parker writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.