By Adam Weinstein
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 2, 2009 - The "Sons of Iraq" civilian security group marked a major milestone when coalition forces completed the final transfer of the volunteers to Iraqi control. Yesterday, the Iraqi government officially took responsibility for all of the nation's Sons of Iraq when coalition forces passed command of Salahuddin province's roughly 10,000 members to the Iraqi army -- the final group to be transferred. That event will be marked by an official ceremony today.
"Working with the Iraqi government, we are taking a population that was separate, integrating them into the new Iraq, and providing hope through a transition into meaningful employment," Army Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer, chief of reconciliation for Multinational Corps Iraq, said. "With the transfer of [Sons of Iraq] to Iraqi control completed, we are now focusing on the transition of SOI to jobs."
The Sons of Iraq -- credited with helping to reduce violent attacks and terrorist influence across the country -- started in 2006 out of the grassroots movement known as Sahwah, or "The Awakening." Concerned local citizens rallied together in their neighborhoods to counter violent acts by terrorists and insurgents.
In 2007, volunteers partnered with coalition forces to defeat common enemies like al-Qaida in Iraq. Security conditions improved greatly and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki approved a plan for the national government to take control of the Sons of Iraq, pay them, and transition them into meaningful, long-term jobs.
"Everyone in the government understands the importance of the Sons of Iraq and their sacrifices for the good of the nation," said Zuhair al-Chalibi, a representative of the Iraqi government's Implementation and Follow-Up Committee for National Reconciliation, which oversees the volunteers' transfer and transition to Iraqi control.
The government will continue to support the "vital project and give it the attention it deserves," he said.
Along with the transition, the Iraqi government also was working to resolve a delay-in-pay issue for Sons of Iraq members.
The payment delay resulted from changes to the 2009 budget, which inadvertently left out funding for Sons of Iraq salaries, Kulmayer said.
Once the Council of Ministers realized what had happened, they quickly passed a resolution to delegate the Interior Ministry to pay the salaries from the ministry's budget until a resolution on the required allocation of funds is reached in the Council of Representatives, Iraq's main parliamentary body, Kulmayer explained.
Iraqi army paymasters responsible for disbursing the funds to Sons of Iraq members will be ready to give them out starting today, Kulmayer said.
The payment resolution was a priority for government and coalition authorities who have focused on the Sons of Iraq program as "the leading edge of reconciliation in Iraq," Kulmayer said.
Chalibi said the government is working to prevent future delays in the payment process for the Sons of Iraq. "This has to be successful," he said. "This is a national reconciliation."
On the successful transfer and pay resolution, "These are big wins, and they affirm the government of Iraq's commitment to the Sons of Iraq," Kulmayer said.
(Adam Weinstein serves with the Multinational Corps Iraq public affairs office.)