Samir was a fourteen-year-old Basiji fighter for the Iranian republic who later explained how he had been swept along by the panoply of patriotism and propaganda. He had taken part in mass demonstrations that supported the war effort and he wore his red headband that announced his status as a warrior with pride. Around his neck he sported a yellow key, the standard issue to all fighters of his age to denote automatic entry to paradise if they were martyred on the battlefield, and a piece of white cloth to represent his shroud. He admitted he had no idea what patriotism and martyrdom really meant, but he and his fellow boy soldiers enjoyed the attention and the sense of excitement their status bestowed on them. On the battlefield, his instructions were to run at the enemy, regardless of minefields or enemy fire. Shouting ‘Allah’u akbar’ at the top of their voices, they swarmed towards Iraqi positions and they were cut down in swathes. Many were killed or maimed as they detonated mines, but fresh waves stepped over their comrades and pushed on. With only an elementary training in military skills and unaware of the broader tactical situation, those who managed to cross the battlefield simply sought out Iraqis in close-quarter battle and, when positions were overrun, they tended to remain where they were, exhausted and without any sense of what subsequent actions were required of them. Samir was captured in an Iraqi counter-attack, but he was fortunate that, despite being a mere cog in this human battering ram, he survived the war. Perhaps more than any other aspect of the war, the motivations that lay behind these practically suicidal charges remain an enigma.
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