The U.S. military is expanding efforts to bring Iraqi women into the armed civilian groups that it is funding and which commanders have credited with increased security in some areas.

Officials late Friday announced that some 30 Iraqi women would comprise the first “Daughters of Iraq” group to be formed in areas south of Baghdad. The U.S. military had dubbed the armed groups — which include nearly 100,000 members throughout the country — as the “Sons of Iraq.”

While mainly Shiite, some of the groups are Sunni-led. The U.S. military says they are instrumental in guarding their neighborhoods, setting up checkpoints and finding roadside bombs.

Officials with the 3rd Infantry Division, which commands U.S. troops south of Baghdad, called the formation of the first women’s group within the so-called “Sons of Iraq” a “bold step in its evolution.”

The female group will be in the city of Yusafiyah, which had long been an insurgent stronghold and scene of battles with U.S. forces. The “DOI,” as the military referred to them, “would be able to search other females at security checkpoints,” which Iraqi cultural norms do not allow men to do.

Officials with the 3rd ID said this was necessary because of “insurgents utilizing females to carry out suicide attacks,” according to a Friday news release. The release also said the “Daughters of Iraq” would facilitate “female empowerment” and a “step toward a properly functioning democratic society.”

The introduction of the group in Yusafiyah follows the creation of the “Sisters of Fallujah” in Anbar province. That program, begun in December, has Iraqi women working with Marines and Iraqi police at checkpoints in Fallujah.

“The ‘Sisters of Fallujah’ are very essential to our efforts,” an Iraqi police captain was quoted as saying in an earlier Marine Corps news release.

“Before, no one could search the woman. Now with the ‘Sisters of Fallujah,’ we are able to prevent insurgents from smuggling anything harmful with the women and children.”

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