Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Continued Problems Integrating The Sons of Iraq


The new Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) report to Congress notes continued problems integrating the Sons of Iraq (SOI). In 2009 the Americans transferred control of the SOI to Baghdad. The Iraqi government promised to give 20% of them jobs in the security forces, and the other 80% employment in other government positions. Since then there have been questions about Baghdad’s commitment to hire, pay, and support the SOI.

Iraqi officials claim around 41,000 of 94,000 SOI, approximately 45%, have been offered jobs. This is a change in rhetoric from previous SIGIR reports because in April 2010 it revealed that Baghdad counts any SOI that has been offered a government position to be transitioned whether they get the post or not. Therefore, no publicly available number exists for how many have actually found a position.

The hiring of SOI has also been on hold. All 94,000 were supposed to be integrated by the end of 2009, but the government said because of budget problems and the March 2010 parliamentary elections, that would have to be delayed. There has been little progress since the vote. The Finance and Interior Ministries are arguing over whether the SOI are included in a hiring freeze imposed in the 2010 budget law, and in May the Ministry of Defense said that it would halt all integration of SOI until the security situation improved. SOI leaders have also complained that the jobs that they have gotten are often menial.

In the meantime the government continues to have problems paying SOI. In 2009 Baghdad expended more than $270 million on the SOI program. Up to July 2010 they had only spent $75 million. March salaries were not paid until the end of May. By the end of June, only 85% of SOI in the country had received their money. 50% of the Sons of Iraq in Baghdad did not get their April and May paychecks. An unknown number of SOI have left their posts as a result to look for other employment, while those still at their posts feel increasing resentment.

Americans working with the Iraqi security forces have also noted little support for the SOI in the field. They’ve said that Army and police units do not provide security or logistics for SOI at checkpoints for example. The most brazen example was a June decision to disarm the SOI in Diyala. The government claimed that the SOI were civilians, and therefore had no right to carry weapons. The SOI have complained that they feel defenseless as a result.

All of these problems boil down to mistrust between the Shiite run government and the majority Sunni SOI, and a lack of government capacity. The authorities don’t trust the SOI, have rejected some because of their tribal affiliations, and continue to arrest SOI members. Many SOI are also young and uneducated, and therefore are not qualified for most jobs. Further problems are the lack of logistics, resources, and budget to integrate all of the SOI. Baghdad has not conveyed these problems to the SOI, nor their commitment to continued integration. The Sunni SOI in return, feel that the government is out to persecute them rather than support them. This is leading to increasing sectarian tensions. Al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to take advantage of this division by continuing attacks upon the SOI to intimidate them, while also offering them more pay then the government to try to turn them back to the insurgency. A few SOI leaders claim that the lack of government assistance and pay is creating incentives for lower level SOI to turn towards Al Qaeda, and some actually have.

Despite the many pronouncements by U.S. and Iraqi officials, it never appeared likely that most of the SOI would ever be integrated. The Maliki government always considered the SOI an American creation, and never believed in it. As a result, Baghdad has always played with the numbers and pay. With U.S. troops withdrawing there is even less incentive for the authorities to follow through with their promises. In the end, some SOI will get government jobs, but the majority will be left to their own devices. With attacks down, the security forces stronger, and the Americans departing, Maliki appears to be willing to sacrifice the SOI. That will impact both the security situation in Iraq, and efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites. Exactly how much is yet to be seen.

SOURCES

Harari, Michal, “Uncertain Future For The Sons Of Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/3/10

Hendawi, Hamza, “Al-Qaida in Iraq offers cash to lure former allies,” Associated Press, 8/6/10

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/10

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