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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Iraqis are short about 17,000 police officers in northern Iraq, but some Iraqis in the region who have played a key role in fighting insurgents may not be eligible to join Iraqi security forces, said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. troops in the region.

The "Sons of Iraq" are mostly former insurgents who are now being paid by the U.S. government to serve as an armed neighborhood watch.

As the program comes to an end, the U.S. military is working to incorporate the "Sons of Iraq" into the security forces or train them for other jobs, but some are not trained to enter the workforce, Hertling told reporters on Monday.

"There is a problem with some of these ‘Sons of Iraq’ in terms of literacy," he said. "We’re helping the Iraqi minister of education to form [a] literacy program to in fact train some of them so they would be eligible to join the security forces."

Over the past few months, about 3,000 "Sons of Iraq" in the northern part of the country have been folded into Iraqi security forces, mostly the police, Hertling said. Commanders in northern Iraq hope to reduce the remaining 29,000 "Sons of Iraq" on the U.S. payroll by 40 percent by October.

But the Iraqi government has been slow to embrace the "Sons of Iraq."

In December, the congressionally mandated progress report on Iraq said the Iraqi government was slow to bring the "Sons of Iraq" — then known as concerned local citizens — into Iraqi security forces.

The report noted that 80 percent of the roughly 69,000 Sons of Iraq are Sunni and said the Iraqi government was worried that they "may return to violence or form new militias of concern."

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