By Adam Weinstein, MNC-I Public Affairs
Jan. 28, 2009
The Government of Iraq and Coalition Forces are on pace to transfer all Sons of Iraq security volunteers to Iraqi control by April, and progress on finding jobs for the men is accelerating, representatives of the camps say.
"This transfer is truly the leading edge of reconciliation in a nation that saw so much discord and distrust under its old regime," said Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, deputy commanding general for operations, Multi-National Corps--Iraq, in a press conference in Baghdad Jan. 18. He was accompanied by Dr. Zuhair al-Chalabi, a representative of the Iraqi government's Implementation and Follow-Up Committee for National Reconciliation, and Gen. Qasim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi Army.
"Now it is within the hands of the Iraqi government," Qasim said of the future of the Sons of Iraq. The process has been challenging, Chalabi added, "but we have moved beyond all the complex issues." He vowed that the Government of Iraq would continue to support the "vital project and give it the attention it deserves."
Baghdad's Sons of Iraq -- who represent more than half the national total -- have already been transferred to Iraqi control and received paychecks from their new bosses in each of the past three months. "These 51,000 individuals now are within the Iraqi Government's responsibility," Qasim said. "It is a big success."
Ferriter said the transfers would continue in Diyala, then in February in the southern provinces of Babil and Wasit as well as Anbar in the west.
In northern Iraq last week, Iraqi and Coalition forces met in Kirkuk and Ninewa provinces with all the Sons of Iraq leaders, representing about 10,000 members. The meeting detailed how the Iraqi government would assume responsibility for the Sons of Iraq in those regions, where registration for the transfer begins on Feb. 1.
At the same time, plans are already underway for the Sons of Iraq to transition into new, meaningful jobs. Twenty percent of them will join the Iraqi security forces; the rest will be given educational and training opportunities and hired into a variety of private-sector and civil-service fields.
The process begins with the Sons of Iraq filling out a history of their education and employment, which Iraq's government ministries will use to classify the men for employment. So far, 37,000 such forms have been gathered in Baghdad.
Additionally, 274 Sons of Iraq joined Iraqi Army in December and 89 received micro grants for private enterprises. Along with others employed in the Iraqi police and outside ventures, this brought the total number of Sons of Iraq who have transitioned to new jobs to about 5,000.
"We're all working together for the same thing - to bring these young men (SOI) back to the government, back to their country and to continue to build a stable a secure Iraq. So, what you see is a result of this partnership. Things are falling into place," Ferriter said at the Jan. 21 meeting in Ninewa.
The Sons of Iraq -- who number about 94,000 in nine provinces across the country -- arose out of a grassroots movement in 2006 known as Sahwah, or "The Awakening," that united Iraqis who had grown tired of Al Qaeda-inspired violence in their communities. In early 2008, the volunteers partnered with Coalition Forces to combat terrorist elements in their neighborhoods.
"Operating in their own towns and villages, the Sons of Iraq found weapons caches, located improvised explosive devices, identified criminals and kept Al Qaeda out," Ferriter said, adding that the men's assistance "thickened" the force and enabled the Iraqi army and police to further improve security conditions.
Last summer, as the security situation improved, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki approved a plan to take responsibility for paying and employing the Sons of Iraq from the Coalition.
Chalabi said the transfer was progressing with the help of sheiks and other tribal leaders in areas where the Sons of Iraq lived. "It is for sure their loyalty is going to be to the Iraqi government," he said.
He also said fluctuations in oil prices and the economy would not affect the pay or work status of the Sons of Iraq, because 2009 funding for the program has already been set aside by the Government of Iraq. Ferriter added that job creation and increasing opportunities for the Sons of Iraq--and all Iraqis--were key goals for all the parties involved. The priority, he said, was to make security gains permanent by giving every Iraqi a stake in the country's future.
"We believe that 2009 is the year when these things will happen," he said.