By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 27, 2009 - Several years ago, tens of thousands of Sunni fighters considered themselves enemies of the Iraqi government and its U.S. conspirators, but after switching allegiances, these former insurgents now are filling the ranks of Iraq's ministries and armed forces. Thousands of these "Sons of Iraq" -- the moniker given to those Sunni combatants who defected from insurgent groups to fight alongside U.S. and Iraqi security forces -- recently gained employment as government workers in Baghdad. Another 13,000 have jobs as Iraqi policemen or soldiers.
Though once part of the al-Qaida-aligned resistance in Iraq, these fighters left the insurgency in droves in 2007 amid the surge of U.S. troops, notably in Anbar province as part of a broader movement that was later dubbed the Anbar "Awakening," or "Sahwa."
"It started with the Sahwa movement where the Sunni Iraqis recognized the true nature of al-Qaida," Army Maj. Gen. John Johnson, deputy commander for Multinational Corps Iraq, told reporters in a news conference today. "They rejected that ideology and ultimately stood side by side with their countrymen and with U.S. forces to bring al-Qaida to the point they're at today."
All told, the Iraqi government hopes to hire the entire 89,000-strong Sons of Iraq force. Though less than one-fifth has been hired, Baghdad continues to integrate the forces into their ranks, Johnson said, providing a progress update on the Sons of Iraq today.
"There was the recent transfer of over 3,300 Sons of Iraq into 18 government of Iraq ministries," he said. "These examples help illustrate the maturing capabilities and strength of the government and its security forces."
About 20 percent, or nearly 18,000 Sons of Iraq, will enlist as members of the Iraqi security forces when the rounds of hiring are complete.
"It's pretty amazing when you think about the level of sacrifice that these men have made for their country," Johnson said. "And it's important to recognize that they're an integral part of the security for this country."
In the past, bureaucratic and budgetary issues created problems related to salaries paid to the Sons of Iraq. But Johnson said the Iraqi government has taken steps to rectify these lapses and reimburse wages lost.
"Here in this last month, the Sons of Iraq were paid double pay to catch them up from back pay to make sure that they have what they deserve for helping with the security of this country," he said.
Though many are still waiting for jobs within the Iraqi government, Johnson said, they see signs of progress with the hiring of fellow Sons of Iraq. He noted that the former insurgents are proud to take a stake in their country's security.
"They see that their brothers are moving into ministerial jobs," he said. "They also see that many of them have moved into the security forces. So I think that they see this progress, and they're willing to continue to participate in providing security until it's their turn to be moved into governmental jobs.
"From talking to the Sons of Iraq and from talking with our commanders who work with them daily, I think they're very proud of the job they're doing in assisting with the security here," he said.