Beginning in September 2008, the United States began transferring control of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) program to Baghdad. The process went in stages with the SOI in Baghdad handed over first, and those in Salahaddin last in April 2009. 88,383 SOI are now on the government’s payroll. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to give 20% of the SOI jobs in the security forces, and the rest employment in civilian ministries. So far the integration plan has gone in fits and spurts, and does not appear to be on time to meet the goals set by the U.S.
From October 2008 to July 2009 only 6,282 SOI have been given jobs. Of those 4,565 have gone into the security forces, and 1,717 into non-security work. The provincial government in Diyala however announced in early August that it had accepted 8,800 SOI into the workforce. Since the January 2009 elections the Iraqi Accordance Front has controlled Diyala, which has actively allied itself with the SOI there to gain popular support and victory at the ballot box, so it should come as no surprise that so many SOI were taken in there.
In total, 17,423 SOI have gotten jobs since the program was created by the United States during the Surge up to July, with approximately 13,000 joining the Iraqi army and police. From June 2007 to September 2008, before the hand over, 11,141 were accepted by the government with 8,777 getting security jobs and 2,364 other government work. Baghdad has also processed 47,000 questionnaires filled out by the SOI, 3,331 of which were sent to the ministries at the beginning of August.
The U.S. general in charge of the transfer program said that he expected Baghdad to give all 94,000 SOI jobs by the end of 2009. So far however, only around 25% have found employment two-thirds of the way through the year, and there has been a hiring freeze of SOI in the Ministries of Defense and Interior since April because of their budget problems. In its latest report on Iraq to Congress, the Defense Department warned that Baghdad was not on tract to meet its promises.
There have been a number of other problems as well. In March and April 2009 the SOI were not paid because the budget did not originally include their salaries. Even after this mix up was fixed there are still on-going complaints by SOI about not getting paid. This has led to an unknown number of fighters to leave their posts and look for work elsewhere. The government has also carried out a series of arrests of SOI with 41 leaders detained since November 2008 with six released. In May 2009 the SOI and the U.S. registered complaints about this policy and things slowed, but then started again in July. There have also been reports that the SOI have been targeted for kidnappings by local police to be ransomed off, and of families charging SOI members with murdering their insurgent relatives.
Baghdad has always viewed the Sons of Iraq program with ambivalence. The fighters were mostly former insurgents organized by the United States without any role played by the Iraqi government. Shiite politicians have often complained about them being infiltrated by militants, denigrated their role in improving security, and said they are only relevant to the Americans. This lack of concern and the normal bureaucratic delays in the government has held up their integration into the Iraqi government. It’s very unlikely that all of them will get jobs by the end of the year, especially with the country’s budget problems holding up all new hiring. That will mean Washington will have to lobby Maliki to include their pay in the next budget as well. Since Iraq’s parliament takes months to pass anything that could leave the SOI without pay for several months all over again. Even then it seems unlikely that Baghdad has the will or capacity to take in all these former fighters. Ultimately, many will probably have to look for work on their own or end up on the unemployment line.
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