Analysts, U.S. Officials Differ on Maliki’s Plans for Sons of Iraq

Analysts, U.S. Officials Differ on Maliki’s Plans for Sons of Iraq

WASHINGTON -- Among the gravest risks to the continuing improvement of the situation in Iraq is that Sunni militias now allied with the United States will not be successfully integrated into Iraqi Security Forces or find employment in the civilian economy, say Iraq analysts and U.S. government officials. But independent observers and U.S. officials differ sharply in their assessments of the possibility of a reversal in the Sunni "Awakening," which is almost universally credited as a significant factor in recent reductions in violence.

The Awakening movement began in earnest in 2006 in Iraq's Anbar province, when U.S. commanders took advantage of the alienation of Sunnis by the heavy-handed and violent tactics of members of Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) and other radical elements of the anti-American insurgency. The alliance of the U.S. military with Sunni sheikhs who had formerly opposed the U.S. occupation saw tens of thousands of fighting-age Sunni males organized into groups of "Concerned Local Citizens." These militiamen, later renamed "Sons of Iraq" by the U.S. military, have acted at the local level to protect villages and neighborhoods against AQI infiltration.

However, with AQI ranks now decimated, the Sunni insurgency on the wane, and the Iraqi government aiming to gain a monopoly on the use of force in the country, members of the 100,000-strong Sons of Iraq, who are now paid $300 a month by the Defense Department, must be gainfully employed elsewhere.

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