In late July 2008, Baghdad launched its latest offensive, this time in troubled Diyala. By late August Iraqi forces had spread out to most regions of the province. Soon afterwards, they began telling the Sons of Iraq (SOI) in areas such as the provincial capitol of Baquba to go home and give up their checkpoints. Just as the government agreed to take over the pay of the SOI in Baghdad, it appears that they are on the verge of ending them in Diyala.
As reported earlier, Diyala has been one of the most violent provinces in Iraq. The rural areas still have insurgent bases, and it has seen the largest number of female suicide bombers in the country. There are currently around 9,000 Sons of Iraq in Diyala, that have helped clear the central region of the province. With the new offensive however, it seems that they are not wanted anymore. Iraqi forces have been telling the SOI to give up their checkpoints, and several of their offices in Baquba and other areas have been closed. The army and police have said this is part of their plan to secure and control the province. More alarming is the fact that Baghdad has also issued arrest warrants for several SOI leaders. The government says they are only going after those that are criminals. According to an SOI commander in Diyala, 38 of his compatriots have been detained so far. These events have led many SOI to believe that the government is out to disband them, and throw their leaders in jail.
The United States military has tried to mediate some of these disputes. In one case, Abu Talib, the head of the SOI in Baquba, found out that a warrant for his arrest had been issued. He went to the U.S. for help. They arranged a meeting with the provincial police chief General Abdul al-Kareem Khaleef. There are two conflicting reports of what happened there. The Stars and Stripes said that General Khaleef told Talib that the police and SOI needed to work together in Diyala, and offered to help Talib’s men if they were arrested. National Public Radio on the other hand, claimed that the meeting went badly. They reported that General Khaleef insulted Talib by comparing the SOI to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. He then went on to say that he objected to the name Sons of Iraq, because all Iraqis were sons of their country. In the end, the general told Talib that the SOI were over with in Baquba. They were formed during an exceptional period when there was no law and order, but now that was over with the arrival of Iraqi forces that were securing Diyala. Therefore the SOI were no longer needed. A few days later, General Khaleef did admit that security forces were shutting down SOI offices in the province. Either way, due to the intervention of the U.S., Talib was not arrested.
As reported earlier, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has been opposed to the SOI since the policy was applied outside of Anbar. In late 2007, the U.S. military got Maliki to agree to integrate the SOI into the security forces, but he would only take in 20%. The rest are supposed to get other government jobs. Today, the U.S. claims that 15,000 SOI have been given security positions, but in reality, only 600 have actually finished their training. Despite this, the U.S. announced in late August 2008 that the government would take control of the SOI in Baghdad by October. A U.S. general from the northern command said that he expected the Diyala SOI to be transitioned to government control by November or December.
Government officials continue to make contradictory statements about whether they will really integrate the SOI. In early September for example, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told CNN that the SOI had links to the insurgency. The Baghdad operations spokesman followed that a few days later by saying that Maliki had agreed to integrate the SOI. The government demanded an audit of the SOI first however. They claimed that the U.S.’s numbers for the SOI are far too great, and want each one’s identity to be confirmed before Baghdad will pay them. An Iraqi general said this was to make sure that insurgents had not infiltrated any of the SOI units. In Diyala there may not be anything to transition to. A U.S. officer said that since the government has told the SOI to leave the streets, the U.S. was simply paying them to stay home. Arrests of SOI leaders in Baquba continue as well, with one detained on September 13.
The future of the Sons of Iraq in Diyala province appears to be very bleak. Since the March 2008 offensive in Basra, Prime Minister Maliki has been attempting to assert government control and its monopoly on force over all parts of Iraq, using the security forces against the Shiite Mahdi Army militia in the south and Baghdad, the insurgents in Mosul, forcing the Kurdish Peshmerga militia to withdraw from two towns in Diyala, and now shutting down the SOI there as well. Some SOI will eventually be integrated into the security forces, but when that happens and how many is an open question. In areas such as Baquba, there may be no SOI left as the security forces have shut down their operations. The government is also taking their pound of flesh by arresting SOI leaders in Diyala beforehand. This should be no surprise as officials from Maliki’s government have made it clear enough through statements over the last year that they have never liked the SOI program, and now that the U.S. is handing it to them, they intend to get rid of those they do not want.
For more on Diyala see:
Diyala Province Backgrounder
For more on the future of the Sons of Iraq see:
What’s In The Future For the Sons of Iraq?
Is This The End? Government Threatens To Finish Off The Sons Of Iraq
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