The military and Iraqi government are accelerating efforts to create jobs for "Sons of Iraq" members as the group’s transfer to Iraqi control nears completion, officials said Thursday.
In all, the Iraqi government now has control of around 82,000 of the estimated 100,000 "Sons of Iraq" members. The men, some of them former insurgents, have manned checkpoints as part of an initiative considered one reason behind security gains in recent years.
The "Sons of Iraq" in Ninevah and Kirkuk provinces were transferred to Iraqi government control on March 1, and registration has begun in Salah Ad Din, the last of nine provinces that will transfer members of the group to Iraq. In Diyala province, the Iraqi army completed its first payday activities for the men there.
Salah Ad Din’s transfer is expected to be complete on April 1.
U.S. forces made their last payment to "Sons of Iraq" in Sudayra in Kirkuk province on March 2. Soldiers monitored Iraqi troops as they made payments to more than 1,000 members.
"Now that we’ve got the transfers nearly complete, we are turning our focus to the transition of SOI into jobs," said Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer, the reconciliation chief for Multi-National Corps – Iraq.
Members of the groups have been promised jobs in the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki mandated that 20 percent of them will join Iraqi security forces. So far, more than 3,000 have joined the Iraqi police.
Several hundred more have joined the Iraqi army and newly formed oil police to protect critical infrastructure. More than 15,000 additional applications are being processed through the police-hiring pipeline, Kulmayer said.
The other 80 percent will be offered jobs in the government’s various ministries. Zuhair al-Chalibi, of the Iraqi government’s Implementation and Follow-Up Committee for Reconciliation, is leading that process. Chalibi’s committee has reviewed most of the job-skills applications from Baghdad’s roughly 48,000 "Sons of Iraq," Kulmayer said.
"He’s ready now to start moving them into ministries," Kulmayer said. "He’s gone out and canvassed some of the ministries. And our pilot project is the ministry of education."
Several thousand "Sons of Iraq" members in Baghdad are expected to be hired into the ministry of education, he said. Once that is successfully done, the Baghdad model will be exported nationwide.
The money for all "Sons of Iraq" employees is already accounted for in the nation’s 2009 budget, officials said.
Coalition forces have also launched several initiatives across Iraq to train "Sons of Iraq" for the skills that they need for employment in the private sector.
The impending transition doesn’t mean the U.S. military is completely through with the "Sons of Iraq." Several units still have "Sons of Iraq"-like groups that man checkpoints in key areas. Most are unarmed, and American leaders resist any comparison to the "Sons of Iraq" for fear of upsetting the Iraqi government.