The future of the 103,000, largely Sunni, Sons of Iraq (SOI) local security units is a major question. The U.S. has said that they will only fund the program to the end of 2008, while the government has repeatedly promised that they will integrate the fighters into the security forces or give them other government jobs. At the same time, Baghdad deeply distrusts the Sunni SOI, and has only integrated 17,000 of them by the end of May 2008, roughly 15%. Two recent events in Diyala and Wasit provinces could provide some insights into what the government plans on doing with these fighters.
On July 29 the government launched its latest military operation in troubled Diyala province. Elements of the largely Shiite National Police entered the well off Sunni neighborhood of New Baquba. The district had a Sons of Iraq unit that was the victim of an insurgent female suicide bomber that killed the SOI’s leader on July 24. The police commander said that some of the SOI were wanted for crimes, and they would be arrested. The others would eventually be given government jobs.
Today, July 31, police raided the offices of an SOI unit in Kut, Wassit province. They arrested three members, gathered up documents, and shut down the office. No explanation was given. The Kut SOI had formed its own political party two months ago to run in the upcoming provincial elections.
As reported earlier, in April and June the government issued three arrest warrants for SOI leaders. In April, the leader of the Amiriya Knights in Baghdad fled to Jordan when he heard the government wanted him for several murders. That same month, a checkpoint leader of the Lions of Adhamiya, also in the capitol, was arrested for murder and working with the insurgency. In June, the government jailed the commander of the Lions for kidnapping.
These incidents are not enough to tell whether they are the result of a government policy, or just individual events. What is known is that as security improves, the Sons of Iraq, will be needed less and less. These units have made deals with the United States military, not with Baghdad. Many of the Sunni ones are made up of former insurgents and tribes, which is a constant source of tension and mistrust with the government. The U.S. wants to integrate 25% of them into the security forces, while the remainder would get government jobs. There is little existing capacity to train the fighters for work, and many do not want to do that after they’ve had guns and secured their communities. The greatest fear is that some of these fighters will go back to the insurgency, which is definitely possible. The majority however, will probably be left to their own devices, and be unemployed as the government is unable and unwilling to find them work. That’s not as bad as going back to fighting, but it will be a destabilizing force to have so many unemployed men in a country with so many already lacking jobs.
Peter, Tom, “Sons of Iraq made Iraq safer. What’s their mission now?” Christian Science Monitor, 7/30/08
Voices of Iraq, “Sahwa office in Wassit closed,” 7/31/08
Zavis, Alexandra, “Residents wary as Iraq police blanket Baqubah,” Los Angeles Times, 7/31/08