Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Way Ahead for Sons of Iraq

The Way Ahead for Sons of Iraq

By Multi-National Division - Center

MULTIN-NATIONAL DIVISION – CENTER, Iraq – When the Surge Strategy is documented in history, the Sons of Iraq program will be listed as one of its successes.

Now, long-term plans are being developed so that gains aren’t lost as its members transition into other roles.

In the past year, the SoI have been instrumental in transforming the security landscape of Iraq.

Since the start of the program, areas where SoI operate have witnessed an unprecedented drop in violence and terrorist-related activities.

Currently, about 36,000 SoI operate in Multi-National Division – Center, the region south and southeast of Baghdad. Organized via local tribal authorities, SoI are ordinary citizens who stepped up to take responsibility for securing their neighborhood. Their contributions to the country’s current stability cannot be overemphasized.

Capitalizing on the gains made by the SoI, efforts can now focus on building capacity, revitalizing the economy, and improving the quality of life for the region’s residents.

However, the program was never intended to be a long-term solution for maintaining security in Iraq.

As the Iraqi army and Iraqi police are assuming more and more authority over Iraqi security, the current scale of the SoI program is no longer essential in many areas.

Nonetheless, it is critical that these people, who have demonstrated a deep commitment to improving their country, continue to play a role in shaping its destiny.

For this reason, Task Force Marne is working with the government of Iraq to actualize these short-term successes into a long-term strategy to stabilize the country.

This process involves finding a constructive role for every member of SoI, be it transitioning into Iraqi security forces or providing employment in non-security related fields.

As the GoI increases its responsibility over the security of the nation, it has intensified efforts to bring SoI under the umbrella of IP. These opportunities were facilitated through the numerous IP recruiting drives, often coordinated by TF Marne Soldiers.

The IP are responsible for the enforcement of civil law in Iraq. The GoI commands the police, under the auspices of the ministry of the interior.

Typically, the IP drives specifically target SoI, as many of the men have already demonstrated the skills and attributes required by IP.

In March, Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, held a recruitment drive with IP from the Rashid District. Over 300 SoI from Arab Jabour enthusiastically arrived, three hours early no less, for the chance to become Iraqi policemen.

This event marked an important milestone, linking GoI presence to the region for the first time in over five years. Many recruitment drives have seen similar responses and results. Drives in areas like Tameen, Iskandariyah, and Muellha have all drawn hundreds of applicants. The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Inf. Div., has already submitted nearly 5,000 SoI packets to the GoI to be screened and evaluated for ISF positions.

In other areas, such as Salman Pak, IP commanders are working with local sheikhs and TF Marne Soldiers, who identify specific recruits from their groups most qualified to contribute to the security of their area in an official capacity.

Currently, ISF recruitment of SoI primarily focuses on IP, as opposed to IA. To date, just over 1,100 SoI members have joined the ranks of the IP. Task Force Marne commanders hope to integrate an additional 2,000 in the coming months.

Numerous initiatives also exist to transition SoI into non-security related jobs.

With the improvement in security and stability, agriculture, infrastructure, and industry are rebounding in Iraq. The rapid growth of these sectors requires an expanded workforce, creating thousands of new jobs that SoI intend to fill.

Certain programs are designed to bring SoI into the public works labor division, where they help to rebuild Iraq’s damaged infrastructure. This process, known as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, has already yielded positive results.

For example, in Arab Jabour, 30 former SoI were linked with Iraqi contractors, who trained them on road and highway repair. The men are now gainfully employed, reconstructing the major roads that connect the towns throughout the region.

In this region, many SoI originally worked as farmers. Task Force Marne has contributed numerous investments to the revitalization of agriculture in the region. They have repaired water canals, provided seeds and fertilizer, rebuilt chicken coops, and facilitated a secure environment where farmers can work in peace. It is probable that, once a long-term security strategy is implemented, many SoI will return to their former agricultural professions.

Perhaps the most significant step taken to integrate SoI into non-security roles is the Joint Technical Education and Reintegration Program. This initiative, primarily funded by the GoI, provides vocational and technical training, specifically for SoI. Through the program, SoI attend free classes and training courses that teach skills like electrical engineering, construction, manufacturing, or plumbing.

“Programs like JTERP train the men in a variety of different fields, so they can eventually leave the SoI completely and go out to become productive citizens of society, with a valuable skill set,” said Capt. John Newman, 3rd Inf. Div. reconciliation officer.

JTERP also demonstrates the GoI’s commitment to ensure SoI continue to play a role in the betterment of their country, even if it is in a different form.

However, certain challenges exist that can impede SoI from moving out from their current roles.

While a current TF Marne objective is to begin transitioning the SoI, in some areas, the security situation still necessitates its presence. The SoI program was never designed as a long-term security plan. However, hastily working towards this goal could compromise many of the recent gains.

“All the absorption programs in the world could be there and work properly. But if we are in too much a rush to transition these guys out of the security role, we could potentially put ourselves right back to where we were before,” Newman said.

A common barrier for SoI is the matter of qualification. One of the requirements to become an IP, as established by the Iraqi ministry of interior, is literacy. IPs must possess basic reading and writing skills in order to examine evidence and file reports.

Many SoI come from rural areas where education has been limited. Additionally, many of the region’s schools were decimated during previous years of violence, precluding the young men from achieving these critical skills.

Even for those who are qualified, a large portion of SoI will not have the opportunity to serve as IP. The IP simply lack the capacity to absorb such a large influx of officers.

Initially, the GoI was skeptical of the SoI program. Some thought the program would only inflame sectarian tensions, having a counterproductive effect on security. According to Newman, this view of the program has since waned.

In particular, during the shia uprising in late March, while much of the country suffered clashes and insurgent attacks, the SoI members largely succeeded in preventing violence in their areas.

“They now view the SoI as a positive element, based on the security that the GoI saw in the areas where SoI operate,” Newman said. “That seemed to help the GoI understand that the SoI were beneficial for everybody.”

While TF Marne is working to transition many SoI, the future existence of the overall program remains The responsibility of the GoI.

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