What’s next for ‘Sons of Iraq’?
Stars and Stripes May 17, 2008
"Sons of Iraq" groups — armed civilians on the payroll of the U.S. military — have been credited as key to the improved security situation in parts of the country, but challenges are arising as the U.S. military and Iraqi government seek to transition these groups into other positions, whether it be the army and police or the daily work force.
There are some 100,000 members of the groups. While mainly Shiite, some have been formed in Sunni areas. U.S. officials have acknowledged that many of the group members were either active or passive supporters of the insurgency before joining. Some were even recruited directly after their release from detention facilities.
The first choice, officials have said, is to enroll "Sons of Iraq" members in the Iraqi police.
More than 300 former members, for example, were among the Iraqi police cadet class that graduated from the Kirkuk Police Academy earlier this week, U.S. officials said.
Those men were from the Hawijah District, a predominantly Sunni area which has some 7,500 "Sons of Iraq," officials said.
"The new recruits will be returning to fill IP vacancies within the Hawijah District, therefore filling a critical need for police there," a news release read.
The area immediately south of Baghdad has nearly 40,000 "Sons of Iraq" members. U.S. officials there say the impact on security "cannot be overemphasized."
But, as "the program was never intended to be a long-term solution," a news release from Multi-National Division—Center read, "the current scale of the SoI program is no longer essential in many areas."
One U.S. brigade in the region has recommended that some 5,000 group members be taken into the Iraqi security forces. Divisionwide, some 1,110 group members have become police, with plans for an additional 2,000.
The rest are the subject of efforts to transition them into jobs not related to security such as in agriculture or labor, officials said. Vocational and technical training programs are also being established.
"Programs like [that] train the men in a variety of different fields, so they can eventually leave the SoI completely and go out to become productive citizens of society, with a valuable skill set," Capt. John Newman, the 3rd Infantry Division reconciliation officer, said in the news release.
Newman acknowledged that, "All the absorption programs in the world could be there and work properly. But if we are in too much of a rush to transition these guys out of the security role, we could potentially put ourselves right back to where we were before."