Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Transition

This week, the Iraqi national government begins the process of assuming authority over the various Sunni militias borne as a result of the Awakenings Movement that began in late 2005. To say there is some trepidation and unease about this process on the part of the Sunni militia members would be an understatement:

First Lt. Justin John, 6-foot-4 and built like a linebacker, plopped down on a sofa in front of Ibrahim Suleiman al-Zoubaidi, one of the leaders of the mainly Sunni armed groups that have helped the U.S. military quell violence in Iraq since last year.

Zoubaidi, a small man armed with a revolver, had one thing on his mind: This week officials of Iraq's Shiite-led government will assume authority over the groups, which have been backed by the United States.

"They will kill us," Zoubaidi declared. "One by one."

The Sons of Iraq consists of tens of thousands of fighters, but the Iraqi government intends only to employ about 20% of them; the rest are being offered "retirement" payments, job training, or alternative jobs with the government. It's not hard to see why they can't all be incorporated into Iraqi security forces; since they are being paid essentially not to fight the Iraqi government or American forces, there really isn't any need for tens of thousands of armed fighters loitering on street corners. Unfortunately, it is well-known that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government regards the Sons of Iraq with suspicion, if not outright hostility, and have moved to arrest members of the movement recently. It is fair to say that the future of Iraq depends largely on the willingness of the Maliki government to accommodate the desires of the Sons, and their willingness to do so is an open question.

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