By Army Maj. Lorraine Januzelli
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 19, 2008 - Multinational Division Baghdad calls them "Sons of Iraq." Their countrymen call them the "Volunteers." Both are fitting namesakes for the 28,000 Baghdad residents who formed citizen militias last year, in coordination with the Iraqi security forces and Multinational Division Baghdad, to protect their communities against al-Qaida in Iraq and other violent extremists. "They risked their lives and fought a common enemy," said Army Col. Richard Welch, reconciliation and engagements team chief for Multinational Division Baghdad, who has been involved with the Sons of Iraq program since its earliest days and has watched it grow and change.
The latest change is a direct result of the program's success. Security gains, achieved in part by Sons of Iraq contributions, have reduced the need for the program, and the Iraqi government will take control of it Oct. 1.
In concert with the increasing size and capacity of the Iraqi security forces, the coalition forces "surge," and the willingness of Baghdad citizens to provide tips on enemy weapons stockpiles and extremist activities, the Sons of Iraq have been paramount to a 90-percent reduction in violence across Baghdad since the high point in August 2007, said Army Brig. Gen. Robin Swan, deputy commander of Multinational Division Baghdad and the 4th Infantry Division. The key to successfully transitioning the program into Iraqi government control will be to maintain these security gains, the general said.
"The [Iraqi government] is committed to making this work and get it right the first time," Swan said. He acknowledged some angst generated during the program's transition, but also reaffirmed Multinational Division Baghdad support for the government as it takes the reins of the program.
Under the new initiative, the Iraqi government will assume the payroll for the Sons of Iraq. To ensure a seamless transfer, officials are undertaking deliberate but paced efforts, beginning with payroll registration at joint security stations throughout Baghdad.
Army Lt. Col. Monty Willoughby, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, attached to the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Multinational Division Baghdad, presided over registration efforts at Joint Security Station Washash in the West Mansour district. Scores of Sons of Iraq waited patiently for their turn to register, and Sons of Iraq leaders carefully registered participants five at a time.
Registration acts as a verification process to ensure proper payroll payments after the transfer to Iraqi government control, Willoughby explained. Multinational Division Baghdad will assist the government with payroll operations as the transition goes forward, he said. The smooth operations at Washash were a positive harbinger for the future, he added.
Willoughby also noted that while the transfer will take place Oct. 1, the transition of Sons of Iraq into other duties and employment will be more phased. They still will be on patrol under the supervision of the Iraqi Army. "This won't be anything new for them," he said. "The IA has always supervised them in our area."
Swan said he is optimistic that the registration process will succeed. To date, 15,000 of the 28,000 Baghdad Sons of Iraq have registered during the past five days. Registration is set to conclude Sept. 25, and all Sons of Iraq who want to register with the government will be given the opportunity, he said.
The transfer opens the door for Sons of Iraq members to apply their hard-won skills to alternate forms of employment, including military or police service. About 20 percent of them will be absorbed into the Iraqi Army or the national police.
Beyond that, Iraqi government and Multinational Baghdad officials are working together to develop several paths for the transition from security operations to other training and employment, Swan said, as positions and job-training within local community service centers and power stations will be available.
(Army Maj. Lorraine Januzelli serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)