Nearly 200 more detainees have been released from U.S. facilities in Iraq over the past week, part of “national reconciliation” efforts that are putting former suspected insurgents back on the street in the hope of more security, officials say.
The largest recent release was that of 122 former detainees in the Tamim province of northeastern Iraq.
“This is a victory for the national and provincial judges across multiple provinces who are working together to find solutions in an effort to help bring an end to the fighting and establishing peace and stability to the region,” Col. David Paschal, 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division commander, was quoted as saying in an Army news release.
“The fighting must stop. Reconciliation begins now,” he said.
The release ceremony was held at the Kirkuk Police Academy, with hundreds of families in attendance. The detainees are screened by release boards and must promise not to involve themselves with the insurgency or criminal acts.
The provincial governor warned the released men: “There are no second chances,” according to the news release.
The detainee release is part of a broader effort to thin the ranks of the U.S. detention facility population in Iraq.
According to media reports, the military hopes to release nearly half of the detainees in its custody in coming months.
The vast majority of the detainees are Sunni, and officials have said two “half-way” houses would be built in the Sunni-dominated areas of Taji and Ramadi.
And in some cases, U.S. commanders and allied Iraqi sheiks have begun recruiting “Sons of Iraq” directly from American detention facilities, U.S. officials have said.
The recruiting drive, launched in January, seeks to identify detainees whom local sheiks are willing to vouch for and employ in the programs, which are U.S.-funded, sheik-administered armed neighborhood groups that have taken on mounting importance in the U.S. security strategy.
While nationwide figures were not available, in January U.S. officials said nearly 300 detainees from Multi-National Division-Center, which encompasses an area south of Baghdad, joined “Sons of Iraq” groups, which were at the time called “Concerned Local Citizens.”
Army Lt. Col. Mike Getchell, commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, told Stars and Stripes in January that there are “some legitimate concerns,” he said. “[Iraqis] say, ‘I wrote statements to put that guy in jail, and now he’s going to be on a checkpoint.’”
But Getchell expressed confidence that the assurances of the sheiks would carry weight.
“In this culture, you vouch for someone and you’re putting your honor on the line,” he said. “And I’ve told my sheiks — you’re vouching for this guy. If he commits a terrorist act, I’m coming for him and I’m putting you in jail, too.”