Abdul Qadir Salah al-Ani has been travelling between Baghdad psychiatric hospitals and pediatric clinics in Fallujah for weeks. He is trying to help his 6-year-old son Khedher complete a rehabilitation programme after the boy was kidnapped by terrorists more than two years ago.
Iraqi security forces freed Khedhr in March, but he still lives in fear and cries constantly. His kidnappers tortured and terrorised him, marring his body with cigarette burns and tying him in a bag with feral cats, leaving scars and wounds on his chest.
"Khedhr still has nightmares every night," said al-Ani, an Iraqi police officer. "However, he is much better now because of the treatment. We hope he will soon be able to re-enter school."
Gunmen kidnapped Khedhr when they attacked al-Ani's house in September 2007, killing his younger brother and blowing up the house.
"The terrorists tried to pressure me into quitting my work with the police," al-Ani said. "They left me a message, saying that if I wanted my son to return, I have to turn myself in to them at a place and time to be determined by them."
Al-Ani had no means to recover his son, but support from colleagues and neighbours encouraged him to continue his work despite the threats.
"The support I received from the rest of the police personnel and neighbours alleviated the enormity of the shock for me. They convinced me of the necessity of continuing my work with the police and not giving in to the demands of terrorists," he said.
More than a year later, after al-Ani thought Khedhr was dead, he found a film on the internet showing a group of terrorists announcing the formation of a suicide cell comprised of children -- including his son.
With explosives strapped around his waist and machine gun in his hands, Khedhr vowed to kill al-Ani in the film.
"At first, I laughed and I started to have hope again that my son may still be alive," al-Ani said. "But later I cried because my son was a hostage with them and they were forcing him to say things he does not understand."
Several years ago, armed groups started kidnapping children of merchants and wealthy people in order to extort large ransoms from their families.
"Al-Qaeda quit their old tactics and started to focus on recruiting children on a large scale," said Baghdad Operations Command spokesperson Gen. Qassim Atta. "They recruit them to blow themselves up. They sometimes use other children as mules to carry explosives from one place to another. This tactic has now become known to Iraqi security forces."
Atta said that in the past few months, Iraqi forces freed more than 13 children under 10 years old who were kidnapped by al-Qaeda for use in terrorist operations. During the same period, Iraqi forces arrested 47 suspects accused of recruiting children.
Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, said al-Qaeda has turned to children because their ranks and funds are diminishing.
"Al-Qaeda wants to form a new generation of terrorists because it has been dealt painful blows that caused it to lose most of its fighters, making it use alternatives who are minors aged between eight and 14 years," he said.
More than two years after Khedhr's kidnapping, intelligence agencies and police forces in Anbar received tips on his kidnappers. Fallujah police raided a house in a remote area where they found Khedhr locked in a room with other children.
"We lost all hope of finding him," al-Ani said. "We even expected that he would not remember us if he was still alive."
Al-Ani was on a security mission when the Fallujah police director called and asked al-Ani to come to police headquarters with his wife and mother.
When the family arrived, al-Ani said, "Khedhr appeared from behind the director's desk and ran to his mother, hugging her and crying heavily."
Iraqi forces arrested a nine-member cell accused of kidnapping and recruiting children for terrorist operations. They were brought to justice and sentenced to death by hanging, according to al-Ani.
More than 130 people charged with kidnapping children across Iraq are now in prison.
"We would like to assure all mothers and fathers that 70% of the terrorist cells that specialise in recruiting and kidnapping children are now in prison waiting for the judgment of the judiciary," said Gen. Tarik al-Asal, deputy minister of interior.
"We are chasing other individuals," he said. "However, it will not take long. Their new tactic is futile and is doomed to fail."