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Sons of Iraq Not Being Paid

Two weeks ago I noted that the U.S. military signed its last checks to the former insurgents known as the Sons of Iraq or the Awakening Councils. The program — whereby insurgents got money and the ability to call themselves security auxiliaries in exchange for bandwagoning against al-Qaeda — is widely credited with reducing violence in Iraq, and now the Iraqi government is in charge of maintaining it. Only it’s kind of… not:

In interviews with leaders from a dozen local Awakening Councils, nearly all complained that full-time jobs were lacking, that pay was in arrears and that members were being arrested despite promises of amnesty.

Perhaps most ominously, many expressed concern this might drive some followers back to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely Iraqi group with some foreign leadership, at a time when both Iraqi and American military commanders say that the group seems to be making gains, small but worrisome, around Baghdad.

The New York Times’ Rod Norland and Alissa Rubin note that the councils have sounded these notes before in order to get the government spooked into giving them more money. But it may be that the Iraqi government’s hands are tied in significant ways from paying the ex-insurgents. For instance:

But other American officials are not so sure, given the far weaker financial condition of the Iraqi government because of falling oil prices. “Do we really think the Iraqi government is going to bring 100,000 new employees in at a time when their revenue stream is taking a nosedive?” asked an American military official knowledgeable about the program, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

So here’s a question about Iraq I can’t answer. Let’s say the Iraqi government doesn’t hire the extra ex-insurgents, and instead arrests many of them. Does the Sunni community from which most of the ex-insurgents come from support a return to insurgency in that case? The recent ABC public opinion poll in Iraq suggests that Iraqis in general want a return to normalcy, but Arab Sunnis still lag behind Arab Shiites and Kurds in terms of political contentment. To oversimplify matters considerably: at what point would the Sunnis — who have already stepped back from the violent abyss once this year — say they’ve had the Shiite-led government break too many promises?

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