Rumours of conscription: Bulgaria, Iraq, North Korea

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There are often rumours of conscription in times of political tension, or when right-wing spokespeople raise fears of the 'indiscipline of youth'. Such rumours often circulate without impact, but sometimes they are the start of a wider campaign and eventual reintroduction of compulsory military service.

In Iraq, military leaders have announced they want to impose conscription for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s Supreme Defence Council approved the proposed bill in late February, and a draft law is being submitted to the Iraqi Prime Minster, Haider al-Abadi.

The news has sparked a very wide range of responses! One comment on social media said "We have had enough militarising of society; people have been on the frontline since the 1980s." "The government" he added, "should build good schools and universities and create an army and police force that can establish security instead of reinstating a conscription system which would increase the militarisation of society and the number of those bearing arms."

In North Korea, Korean Central Television has reported that 1.5 million North Korean youth voluntarily enlisted in response to a call from the military issued a month or more earlier than the normal April-May recruiting season. Radio Free Asia have reported however that this recruitment was forced. “The central government instructed students and youngsters to hold pep rallies stressing the tense political situation surrounding the country,” a source in North Hamgyung Province told RFA.

“Military recruiting, which normally occurs from April through May, started about a month earlier this year,” a second source in North Hamgyung Province told RFA. “If you don’t join the military at a time they are being mobilized by the order from the top, you will be branded as reactionary, and you and your family will suffer,” added the source. “That’s why 1.5 million people have joined the military”.

They've also been encouraging former soldiers to reinlist. The National Defence Commission have been interviewing workers who meet the requirements for re-enlistment. Those selected for service have now been placed on stand-by. “Only those who have a missing person – or are an inmate at a kyohwaso [re-education camps, which also function as prisons] – among their family members are exempted,” the source said.

In Bulgaria, the Ministry of Defence in Bulgaria have announced that they will create a register of all young people in the country between 18 and 32 years old, who would be eligible for military training in case of war or a national emergency. This has sparked fears of a return to a conscripted armed forces, which was abolished in 2008. Whether compulsory military service is reintroduced or not, however, the register still represents a concern for antimilitarists.

Sources: Balkan Insight, Military Register Sparks Conscription Fear in Bulgaria, 25 February 2016, Radio Free Asia, North Korea Makes Nuclear Threats, Ramps up Conscription at Home, 4 March 2016; The Guardian, North Korea steps up army recruitment ahead of US military exercis, 4 March 2016; Arabeye, Iraqis stare down the gun barrels of universal conscription, 8 March 2016; NB News, Iraq Military Seeks Draft for First Time Since Fall of Saddam Hussein, 15 March 2016.

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