What would you call a leader who sends children to war when they aren't big enough to carry their own rifles, who imposes quotas on high schools to produce soldiers, who uses those children as mine sweepers and shields for the real soldiers? Call him Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
No one, not even our sources at the Central Intelligence Agency, knows how many teen-agers and children Khomeini has pulled out of school to go to the front with Iraq. But our sources concede the number is in the tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands.
Our sources also agree that the boy soldiers get little training and are used as a shield for Khomeini's fanatical Revolutionary Guards Corps fighting at the front or as mine sweepers whose lives are expendable. Children are Khomeini's cannon fodder.
At times, Khomeini's officials have boasted about this barbaric practice. Mohsen Rezai, the commander of the guard corps, has spoken publicly about the children's role in advancing ahead of his soldiers to draw fire. He has even referred to them as Iran's "disposable soldiers."
One top Iranian military official estimated last May that 64,000 Iranian schoolchildren had been sent to the front in 1986. Iranian Minister of Education Kazem Akrami had earlier put the number at more than 120,000 students and teachers.
The head of the "war affairs staff" in the education ministry announced a year ago that "more than 95 percent of the 7th grade students of the country are enrolled for military training this year." Those are the 12- and 13-year-olds. He boasted that Iranian vocational schools were busy with their "production project," turning out mortar parts and containers for mortar shells.
In a private meeting with education ministry officials, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, ordered them to provide more students for the fronts. He praised the ministry for becoming the main source of troops for the war.
Iranian President Ali Khamenei has boasted of the regime's recruitment of children for the front. He bragged that "the youngsters cry and beg to be sent to the front lines."
As a sop to worried parents, the regime has promised the children will spend only 45 days at the front and will attend "educational complexes" when they are not fighting.
The 45-day term is ignored, and the education complexes are a joke. The classes are often empty because the children are at the front. More than once, a child who died before the course began has been issued a passing grade.
At the outset of the 1987 school year, Akrami tried to whip teachers and students into a recruitment frenzy. According to one source, Akrami said that "since schools are considered a bunker like those at the fronts," the kids should begin the new year with the slogan "War! War!"
In case volunteers don't beg and cry to join up, the ministry has ordered all high schools to pick 40 students and 10 teachers per school term to fill the quota at the front.