Almost all of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) have been transferred to Iraqi control now. Only the 10,000 SOI in Salahaddin are left, and they are due to be taken over by Baghdad by April 1. In March the SOI in Ninewa and Tamim were turned over to the government. That meant a total of 81,773 fighters in the eight provinces of Baghdad, Wasit, Babil, Qadisiya, Anbar, Diyala, Ninewa, and Tamim have now been handed over by the Americans, but their future is still uncertain.
The Americans have created an extensive program in conjunction with the government to try to integrate the SOI into the armed forces and other government jobs. Iraqi officials have been registering all of the SOI, and taking down their qualifications and education levels. The U.S. is running almost the entire program. They have set up federal employment centers, which are supposed to be labor pools from which ministries will recruit new workers. The U.S. is also pushing private companies, including American contractors, and tribes to consider hiring SOI. Ones that do are to receive preferential treatment. Finally, the Americans are offering micro-grants to any SOI that want to go into business for themselves or begin farming. The U.S. has also been offering vocational, literacy, and general education courses for the fighters since most ministries require a primary education to be employed. The U.S. has set up a literacy program in Tamim for example, that if successful will be copied throughout the rest of the country.
This entire process is being threatened by the country’s budget problems now. As reported before, Iraq has cut its spending several times before because of the declining price of oil. There is money set aside to pay for the SOI, but the promise of jobs is not guaranteed. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed Executive Order 118-C that said 20% of the SOI are to be integrated into the security forces, and the remaining 80% are to be given jobs in the ministries. So far, 5,000 have been given positions in the police and 500 in the army. That means only around 7% of those that have registered have found actual employment. Of the other ministries, only Education, Health, and Oil have promised to hire 10,000, 3,000, and 500 SOI as guards respectively. Further hiring is going to be difficult because of the financial problems. Already the Interior Ministry has announced that it will stop expanding the police force for fiscal year 2009-2010. All the other ministries are also supposed to have hiring freezes as well.
To add to this problem is the fact that the SOI are being paid less and late. When Baghdad agreed to take over the first SOI in Baghdad in October 2008 they announced that they were cutting their pay. The Americans had been given them between $400-$600/month. Now they were going to receive $250/month. Some SOI have also begun to complain that the government is late with their payments. The New York Times contacted seven SOI units in Diyala and Baghdad in March 2009 and found that six said they had not been paid for two months.
Some U.S. officials have criticized the pace with which the SOI have been integrated, but now the whole process appears to be on hold. The deputy commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad General Frederick Rudesheim told the Associated Press in mid-March that the hiring of the SOI was going slower than expected. The causes are probably a mix of the notoriously slow Iraqi bureaucracy and political unwillingness on the part of some Shiites to accept the Sunnis fighters, many of which were former insurgents. Added to this is the much larger problem of the country’s budget crisis. There is little money to fund the expansion of any of the ministries and security forces right now, let alone hire almost 100,000 SOIs unless the price of oil increases. As a result, the ultimate plight of many of the SOI may be the unemployment line.
Associated Press, “U.S. troops to remain active in Iraq after pullback,” 3/15/09
Derhally, Massoud, “Iraq Freezes 66,000 New Police Hires, Minister Says,” Bloomberg, 3/22/09
Gamel, Kim, “Iraqi budget woes force security hiring freeze,” Associated Press, 3/20/09
Multi-National Corps-Iraq, “Iraq, Coalition forces developing numerous job opportunities for Sons of Iraq,” 2/25/09
- “Sons of Iraq transfer near completion; focus shifts to job creation,” 3/11/09
Multi-National Division – North, “U.S. military makes last payment to Sons of Iraq,” Multi-National Corps – Iraq, 3/11/09
Nordland, Rod and Rubin, Alissa, “Sunni Fighters Say Iraq Didn’t Keep Job Promises,” New York Times, 3/24/09
Parker, Barry, “Iraq govt to control US-backed Sunni militias by April,” Agence France Presse, 3/12/09
Reuters, “U.S. hands Almost All Sunni Guards To Iraqi Control,” 3/21/09
Sly, Liz, “Iraq plans to cut Sunni fighters’ salaries,” Chicago Tribune, 11/2/08
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/09