November 1, is an important litmus test for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It is the day that the government is suppose to start paying the 54,000 Sons of Iraq (SOI) in the Baghdad area. On September 8, Maliki officially declared that the government would take responsibility for the Baghdad SOI and integrate them. The government promised that those that were literate, had an education, passed a medical test, and had no criminal record could join the security forces. The rest are suppose to get government jobs. At the same time, the government said that the U.S.’s numbers on the SOI were too high, and they demanded an audit to confirm their identities before they would pay them. An Iraqi Army general also said that the process was meant to ferret out any insurgents from infiltrating the security forces. Charges that the SOI are full of unrepentant militants has been a common one from the government. Comments such as these, plus the government’s crackdown on the SOI in Diyala and other areas, has caused widespread fear and apprehensions amongst the SOI. Many are afraid that Baghdad will arrest them, and disband the rest.
To try to protect against these possibilities, the U.S. has made a number of contingency plans. First, the U.S. has set aside 90 days worth of pay in case the government can’t or won’t provide salaries on November 1. Second, they have gotten promises form the government that they cannot arrest any Baghdad SOI for warrants that were issued in the last six months. Third, the U.S. has also set up a mini-grant program to try to get some of the SOI to retire or take up a new profession. Last, Americans will act as mediators in case of any confrontations. Still, there are many American officers that share the same suspicions as the SOI that they have worked with that the government is not committed to this program.
Even if Maliki follows through with his promises, there is not much of a future for the SOI. The government said that they would integrate 20% of the SOI. Some SOI leaders have asked for a larger percentage, but Baghdad has refused. Those that do get jobs in the security forces will get the lowest ranks. The remaining 80% are suppose to get government jobs that may not exist. This could lead some to turn back to violence. That would be a hard fight as all of them have had their biometric information recorded by the U.S., and are well known by U.S. troops. To be effective they would have to move to rural areas away from the security forces, or leave their provinces to places they are not known. Otherwise most of them will end up dead. If the government doesn’t follow through with the policy, a much more likely outcome is that many of these men will end up unemployed.
Alsumaria, “New procedures to enroll Awakening members,” 9/12/08
Farrell, Stephen, Rubin, Alissa, Dagher, Sam and Goode, Erica, “As Fears Ease, Baghdad Sees Walls Tumble,” New York Times, 10/10/08
Londono, Ernesto, “For U.S. and Sunni Allies, a Turning Point,” Washington Post, 9/30/08
Rasheed, Saif and Susman, Tina, “Iraq, U.S.-funded militia at loggerheads,” Los Angeles Times, 9/12/08
Sands, Phil, “Payday vital for stability in ‘triangle of death,’” The National, 10/30/08