By Sgt. 1st Class Christina Bhatti
2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The government of Iraq has pledged millions dollars to begin paying the Sons of Iraq (Abna al-Iraq).
Beginning, Oct. 1, 2008, American taxpayers will no longer foot the bill to support the SoI program that was instrumental in decreasing violence throughout the country.
The United States currently pays SoI members $300 a month. By the end of November, the Iraqi army will pay SoI members in Iraqi Dinar, said Maj. J.D. Highfill, deputy team leader, embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Baghdad – 5, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team "Warrior," 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.
Approximately 13,000 SoI members man checkpoints and keep watch in the 1,300 square miles of 2nd SBCT's operational area. This means in that area alone, approximately $4 million per month will now come from GoI funds instead of U.S. funds.
"When this happens across the country, this will mean a lot of money that stays in taxpayer pockets," said Maj. Gus Waterhouse, a native of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, and civil affairs officer in charge, 2nd SBCT.
But as may be the case with most transitions, there are potential growing pains involved.
"This is not about the money," Highfill said, adding the GoI has the resources to adequately and continually pay the SoI members. Highfill said he's more concerned with the massive administrative challenges the transition presents.
The U.S. Army's method of tracking SoI membership and activities is new to the IA. If not turned over properly and executed properly, it could jeopardize the efficiency of the pay process.
"The Iraqi army has a daunting administrative role ahead, but they are starting to get the right systems in place to administer this process effectively," said Maj. Jim Craig, a native of St. Louis, Mo., operations officer for 2nd SBCT.
To mitigate this issue, U.S. Soldiers and IA soldiers are performing pay missions together to ensure the transition goes smoothly.
Though the GoI will face challenges, Waterhouse said this is a huge step forward for the government.
"They are becoming more involved in taking charge of their security issues – taking responsibility for those who help in security is step in the right direction," he said. The key to success is the partnership between the U.S. Soldiers and the IA soldiers and a no-fail mindset.
"Like all things, we are doing this together, in full partnership with the IA," said Craig. "The IA has no intention of letting this program fail, and neither do we. We will be with them every step of the way. We will not let these men fall through the cracks."
Although the immediate future of the SoI is secure, the situation can still change. Transitioning the SoI in into the Iraqi security forces was a goal of Gen. David Petraeus, former commanding general of Multi-National Force – Iraq, but the Shiite-dominated GoI has said it will only accept 20 percent of the mainly Sunni force into the Iraqi police and Iraqi army. The proposal is for the remaining 80 percent to be placed by the government into other meaningful jobs throughout the government. Craig said the U.S. forces will work with the GoI to ensure a successful transition of the SoI members to ensure their futures.
"We will monitor this closely," said Craig. "We will work with the local governments to identity jobs for them."
This work, GoI set to take control of SoI, by MSG Christina Bhatti, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.