Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sons of Iraq Made Iraq Safer. What's Their Mission Now?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sons of Iraq Made Iraq Safer. What's Their Mission Now?

Article excerpt

In a month of patrolling Baghdad, US Army Capt. Ryan Williams has seen the best and the worst of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) - the community policing group instrumental in restoring calm here.

When a child went missing, SOI members identified and helped detain his kidnappers. But another SOI group also reportedly took over a gas station "for security reasons" and sold the fuel on the black market.

Other problems include infighting among SOI units, with the homegrown Iraqi lawmen giving US forces bogus tips about their rivals' supposed criminal activity. "We learned pretty quick that they were just trying to get us to fight their battles," says Captain Williams, a Newport Beach, Calif., native.

These issues indicate that the shelf life of SOI groups is finite. US and Iraqi officials are now figuring out what to do next with the 103,000 SOI members in Iraq. Many officials worry that if the SOI units are dissolved without transitioning members into steady employment, Baghdad's security will pay the price.

"[The SOI] is not perfect, but I think they've done a stand-up job of providing security," says Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of 1-2 Striker Cavalry Regiment and a native of Willard, Ohio.

The key to maintaining that security, says Lieutenant Colonel Barnett, is finding them new jobs. "If they have long-term employment, then they don't have to turn to the insurgents for money to live on."

In Adhamiya, a neighborhood in north Baghdad where Barnett's regiment patrols along with some 2,000 SOI members, attacks have plummeted to less than a tenth of pre-SOI levels.

SOI members receive $300 a month from the US, a small amount even by Iraqi standards (low level Iraqi Army soldiers make roughly double). As of June, the US government has spent a total of $216 million on the program. The Iraqi government has committed $163 million to gradually assume Sons of Iraq contracts.

US commanders would like to transition 100 percent of SOI into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as soon as possible. But the final decision about incorporating SOI into the police or military will come from the Iraqi government - which is giving mixed signals on the plan. …

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