Support our mission

BAQOUBA, Iraq — Abu Talib entered Iraqi Police headquarters in Diyala province clearly upset about outstanding arrest warrants on him and his fighters. An hour later, he walked out smiling.

Talib, leader of the U.S.-funded "Sons of Iraq" civilian security force in Diyala, met with the brass Wednesday to air his fighters’ concerns about crooked police officers.

Some observers see signs that Iraq’s Shiite-led central government is on a mission to drive out the groups — credited by coalition forces with helping to calm down the country — and put only a fraction of them into legitimate roles within the Iraqi security forces.

During the meeting in Diyala, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul al-Kareem Khaleef, the provincial police chief, assured Talib that his 20,000 fighters are still needed in the province. Khaleef wants them to work alongside police to protect displaced families as they move back into their homes, many of which were destroyed by al-Qaida in Iraq fighters.

More than 1,000 families have been displaced in the province, Iraqi Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan, commander of all Iraqi army ground forces, said last week.

"I still need you guys to help us on this," Khaleef told Talib and others through a translator. "You have the ability to help them. We have to do this together … to give them a chance to live their lives."

Though Talib showed willingness to help, he said he and others have been deterred by fake arrest warrants. Some fighters had also been tortured behind bars or had to bribe their way out of jail, he said.

"Please tell the Iraqi police to stop chasing me," he said through a translator. "I’ve fought against al-Qaida and other bad people," he said, adding that 18 of his family members were killed by the terrorist group.

Khaleef admitted that elements of his police force are corrupt. "We have criminals in the Iraqi Police."

He then told Talib to write his name and the names of other fighters wrongfully accused on a sheet of paper; he’d check to see if any charges could be dropped.

"We want to take care of these people because they helped us," Khaleef said of the fighters.

Sixty-seven displaced families from Kharnabat and 145 families from al-Bara, now living in Tahrir near Baqouba, are struggling to return home, Talib said. A few Sunni families had tried to go back but were shot at by the Shiite-run Jaish al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army militia, and detained by the Iraqi security forces, he said.

"I will force them to bring back the families," Khaleef responded. He then organized a trip to the villages with Talib to make sure it happens.

U.S. Army soldiers sat quietly in the background during the meeting as both sides hashed out agreements.

"I think it’s a good first step in the right direction," Capt. Salon Webb, commander of Company E, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, said later. "We all want the same end state. The question is how we can get there. Hopefully we’re on the same path," said Webb, 32, of Walnut Creek, Calif.

However, the meeting didn’t delve into the exact future of the "Sons of Iraq" program in Diyala, or if any members would be merged with the Iraqi security forces.

"I don’t think anyone knows," Webb said. "I think we need to incorporate them into the ISF, if possible. It would be a waste to push them away."

Not every fighter would qualify because of age requirements, he added.

In Baghdad, roughly 1,000 fighters are currently being integrated into the Iraqi security forces, according to a Multi-National Division – Baghdad release.

Before the meeting, Talib said that Iraq’s government has offered security jobs to only 5 percent of his fighters.

"I wish they could hire more than that," he said.

Asked if a lack of jobs for his fighters could spark violence in the region, he remained vague.

"I don’t know," he said. "Maybe, maybe not."


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up