MOSUL, Iraq — Cruise the streets of Mosul, and you’ll see plenty of men wearing one of the Iraqi army’s handful of motley uniforms. You’ll see a similarly large number of men wearing the Iraqi police uniform. You’ll probably even run into several American soldiers wearing their distinctive digital camouflage.
But what you won’t see is the tan, buttoned-down shirts worn by many "Sons of Iraq" volunteers. That’s because Mosul, unlike so many other parts of Iraq, does not use "Sons of Iraq" — the term the U.S. military uses for armed civilians paid by the U.S. to guard their own neighborhoods.
Those groups, which first started up in Anbar province, have been credited with bringing stability to violent areas. The Associated Press reported Sunday that some of the groups, also called Awakening Councils, are talking about fielding their own candidates in provincial elections this fall.
But "Sons of Iraq" groups work best in communities with a single, straightforward, sectarian rift, said Lt. Col. Robert Molinari, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment operations officer. Baghdad, for example, is primarily split between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs. Mosul, though, is a cosmopolitan city with significant Arab, Kurd, Christian, Turkoman and other populations.
"If you employ one of them (as "Sons of Iraq"), you have to cater to all of them," he said.
"Sons of Iraq" groups also were designed to provide security for neighborhoods without enough security forces, a problem Mosul doesn’t have. This city of some 2 million people has 14 Iraqi army battalions, 10,000 Iraqi police and 4,000 coalition force soldiers.
"We’re not short for Iraqi or coalition security," Molinari said.
The reliance on official Iraqi government forces gives Mosul some advantages over areas that depend on "Sons of Iraq," he said. Iraqi army, Iraqi police and coalition forces have training the volunteers don’t have.
First Lt. Peter Cacossa, like most U.S. Army members in Mosul, described an Iraqi army that is growing increasingly independent. Its members run their own operations and go out on their own missions, said Cacossa, a platoon leader in Heavy Company, 3rd Squadron, 3rd ACR. Several of their combat outposts have been hit by truck bombs, but the soldiers just rebuild the outposts and dig in deeper.
"These guys are hard workers, and they like catching the bad guys as much as we do," he said. "Pretty much we just stop by, check on the force protection, check on the cleanliness of the COP."
The "Sons of Iraq," on the other hand, is limited to defensive operations — namely, manning checkpoints. Its members stay in their neighborhoods and can’t be moved around to meet shifting needs, Molinari said. By contrast, some Iraqi army units were stationed in western Ninevah province before coming to Mosul.
"The Iraqi army has demonstrated an agility and freedom of movement," he said. "(Sons of Iraq) is an armed, paid neighborhood watch. You can’t move them around."
In addition, coalition forces foot the bill for the "Sons of Iraq," whereas the Iraqi government pays for its own security forces.
"It’s not a matter of having extra money," Molinari said. "It’s a matter of having Iraqi funds to fix Iraqi problems."
Mosul has unarmed tribal support councils to bridge the gap between tribes and the Iraqi government. Molinari said the councils will play a political role in the upcoming elections, probably by organizing Mosul’s Sunni majority into a stronger political block.
Many Sunnis boycotted the provincial election in January 2005, and Molinari said he thinks they are more fragmented than the minority groups.