In June 2010 when the Sons of Iraq (SOI) in Diyala province went to pick up their May paychecks, they were told by the military that they had to turn in their old identification badges, and get new ones that did not allow them to carry weapons. The order came down from the Defense Ministry in Baghdad. A military spokesman said that the SOI were now considered civilians, and were therefore not allowed to carry guns. The head of the SOI in the province asked the press how they were expected to carry out their security duties and protect themselves from insurgents if they couldn’t use small arms. He then threatened to stop cooperating with the authorities until the ban was lifted. This latest event is part of a tumultuous history between the Diyala SOI and the central government.
The Diyala SOI have always had the worst relationship with Baghdad. The SOI were first put together by the head of the security committee on the provincial council, who was a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, and the Americans in early 2007. Together, they were able to convince thousands of members of local insurgent groups to switch sides and fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Islamic Party saw it as a way to not only take credit for improving security in the governorate, but also to build up a popular base. That attracted the attention of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who began a carrot and stick approach to break up both the SOI and the Islamic Party in Diyala. He created the Diyala Support Council in mid-2007 and later the Diyala Tribal Support Council in January 2008 that were meant to draw fighters away from the SOI. At the same time he used security offensives in the province to round up members of the Islamic Party and the SOI.
The policy of offering jobs to fighters if they abandon the SOI and Islamic Party or face jail has continued up to the present day. In mid-January 2010 for example, 13,000 SOI abandoned their checkpoints to protest arrests by the security forces. They claimed that 425 fighters and 25 senior leaders had been detained by the government. In March, the authorities turned around and announced that they were integrating all of the SOI into the local police, beginning in April. There has been no word that this has actually happened. In fact, the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Diyala downgraded the ranking of the governorate in its last report because it felt that the arrests by the local security forces there were politically motivated, and probably done at the behest of Maliki.
As reported before, Baghdad is supposed to provide jobs for all of the Sons of Iraq by the end of this year. That is unlikely to happen since the government considers many of the SOI unrepentant former insurgents that were created without their involvement. As a result, most are unlikely to ever find their promised employment. Instead, they are going to face continued harassment mixed with pledges of opportunity from the authorities just as has happened in Diyala until they are all disbanded or simply give up, and go on to something else.
Aswat al-Iraq, “Diala police begins integration of 18,000 Sahwa fighters,” 3/22/10
- “Diala sahwa fighters quit checkpoints,” 1/23/10
Al Jazeera, “Iraq disarms Sunni tribal militias,” 6/6/10
Kamal, Hilmi, “Iraq pulls weapons permits from former insurgents,” Reuters, 6/5/10
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/10
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