In May 2009 the Iraqi government took full responsibility for the payment of 95,000 Sons of Iraq (SOI). The SOI were put together by the United States when Sunni tribesmen and insurgents felt squeezed by the Shiite militias, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and U.S. forces. The Sunnis were willing to switch sides to forestall their annihilation, and hold on to what they had left. In 2008 Baghdad agreed to take control of the program from the United States, integrating 20% into the security forces, and finding the rest employment with Iraq’s ministries or in the private sector. Since that time, the policy has run into consistent problems. The government has continued with intermittently arresting SOI leaders, there have been problems with paying them, and only around a quarter have found employment.
At the beginning of November 2009, two Sons of Iraq leaders (SOI) were arrested by the security forces. One was the head of the SOI in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, and the other was a commander in Baquba in Diyala province. Details on the Diyala arrest were scant, but the authorities said that the SOI leader was arrested for taking part in military operations. The case of Mustafa Kamal Shibeeb of Dora was much better known. In October 2007, Shibeeb led his SOI against Al Qaeda fighters from a rival tribe killing several of them. In 2009 some of the relatives of the dead insurgents went to the police, and got an arrest warrant for Shibeeb. He is also charged with holding and beating 30 suspected insurgents, and killing five of them. Shibeeb was supported not only by the U.S., but a local Iraqi Army unit, in his fight against the authorities. Twice police commandos from the Interior Ministry tried to arrest him in the fall of 2009, and one-time Iraqi soldiers, with the backing of the Americans, blocked them. Shibeeb has also tried to work within the Iraqi justice system by hiring a lawyer, and saying that he would go to court. He has attempted to get the Prime Minister involved as well, by joining one of his Tribal Support Councils. The Baghdad Operations Command, which answers directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, ending up ordering a stop to the raids. That didn’t seem to work, as he was ultimately detained in November. Sunni parliamentarians have condemned the arrest, while it’s believed that Interior pursued the case because the victims’ families had tribal connections within the ministry.
This has not been the only time that the government has accepted charges against SOI for killing insurgents. In June 2008 it was reported that the head of the SOI in Amariya, Baghdad was being investigated for killing an Al Qaeda in Iraq leader. In April 2009, an SOI commander in Arab Jabour, a suburb of Baghdad, was arrested for killing Al Qaeda members. SOI members have responded by saying that some of these charges are based upon false information and insurgents who are attempting to undermine them. U.S. officials have told Baghdad to let many of those arrested go, but the government continues detaining them.
Another major problem in the integration of the SOI has been keeping up with their salaries. Since the day that Baghdad agreed to take over the program, they have not always paid the SOI on time. The latest complains came in October 2009, when a unit in Jaweja, southwest of Kirkuk in Tamim, and another in Azamiya, Baghdad said they had not been paid in three months. The U.S. general in charge of military planning in Iraq blamed Iraq’s budget problems for these delays. He said that the government was supposed to make double payments in October to make up for the missed ones. It’s not been reported whether that happened or not.
Finally, finding jobs for the SOI has gone extremely slow. Of the 95,000 SOI fighters that Baghdad took control of this year, only 26% have gotten jobs. The security forces have hired 9,500, 6,800 have gotten jobs in other parts of the government, and 8,800 have gone to work elsewhere. That leaves 69,900 who have not been integrated yet. Out of those, many are simply staying at their posts hoping that the government will come through with their promises. Others have left to find work elsewhere, while still others have probably tried to return to the insurgency out of frustration. It’s unlikely many will take that route as their information is known by the government, which makes it extremely hard for them to operate covertly which is a necessity in any successful guerrilla war, and few have the stomach to return to the fight.
When the Sunni tribes and fighters agreed to join the SOI, they were in effect admitting their defeat. They are now suffering the consequences. Most of them will have to bear with these problems because they have no other choice. Their main benefactors, the Americans, are withdrawing and losing influence. That means they are at the mercy of the Iraqi government, which does have massive bureaucratic and budget problems, but also has shown little enthusiasm for the SOI program since its inception. More stories of arrests and lack of pay are therefore likely.
Ahmed, Caesar, “Prominent member of Awakening movement arrested in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 11/10/09
Alsumaria, “Awakening Forces warn of quitting,” 10/8/09
Associated Press, “Budget of Iraqi security forces strained, PM says,” 10/7/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Sahwa fighters in Haweja demonstrate demanding salaries,” 10/6/09
- “Sahwa official arrested in Diala,” 11/9/09
Parker, Ned, “Awakening leader’s tale illustrates Iraq’s volatility,” Los Angeles Times, 10/18/09
- “The rise and fall of a Sons of Iraq warrior,” Los Angeles Times, 6/29/08
Parker, Ned and Hameed, Saif, “Sunni paramilitary leader released from Iraq jail,” Los Angeles Times, 4/3/09
Rosen, Nir, “An Ugly Peace,” Boston Review, November/December 2008
Rubin, Alissa, “Arrests Deepen Iraqi Sunnis’ Bitterness,” New York Times, 4/12/09
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/09