Sunni Militias Represent Hope, and a Potential Liability, for Iraq

Sunni Militias Represent Hope, and a Potential Liability, for Iraq

The neighborhood militias that are the lynchpin of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq have a new name, but the problems these groups present are as old as the Iraq war. In recent weeks, the U.S. military has begun calling the groups by the patriotic moniker "Sons of Iraq," which Baghdad proposed to replace the difficult-to-translate "Concerned Local Citizens." But the re-branding has done nothing to resolve the poor vetting, sectarian divisions and murky motives that make the groups a potential security risk in coming years.

Three years after Iraq's Sunni minority mostly boycotted national elections, the Sunni-dominated Sons of Iraq are at the forefront of U.S. efforts to retake territory lost to extremists. After U.S. and regular Iraqi Army troops clear an area, Sons of Iraq units, each with around 30 men and recruited locally, fill in behind them to ensure that extremists don't return.

The militia are paid from U.S. war funds and armed by Baghdad using U.S. grants. Their duties mostly entail manning static road checkpoints, and searching cars for weapons and other evidence of insurgent affiliation. In January, U.S. Army Col. Terry Ferrell from the 3rd Infantry Division credited the militias with helping secure the formerly contested Arab Jabour region outside Baghdad.

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