Tribal Movements and Sons of Iraq

The Sunni tribal groups known as Sons of Iraq (SoI) have been a critical partner in Coalition and Iraqi security operations since its creation in the fall of 2006.  The movement began in 2005 in Anbar Province as Sunni tribes became increasingly alienated from Al-Qaeda in Iraq's (AQI) violent and repressive behavior.  In 2006, in the city of Ramadi in Anbar Province, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi united Sunni tribes to form the Anbar Awakening and later the political Sahwa movement to counter AQI's rising influence in the province.  The Awakening was involved in securing infrastructure, controlling checkpoints, and carrying out patrols.  The success of the Anbar Awakening gave birth to unaffiliated Sons of Iraq programs outside of Anbar in Baghdad, south of Baghdad in Babil Province, and north of Baghdad in Ninawa, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala Provinces.

Recognizing the power of the tribal structure, Prime Minister Maliki has also been involved in outreach to tribes, reaching back to the Iraqi Security Force operation in Basra of March 2008.

At it's height, the SoI movement employed between 100,000 and 120,000 armed Sunni volunteers, each paid roughly $300 a month by U.S. Brigade Combat Teams.  To prevent infiltration of known militants into the SoI ranks, each volunteer had his biometric data and retinal scan recorded into a database.  The SoI movement is viewed as one of the primary reasons for the recent weakening of AQI and for security improvements in central Iraq.  The continued employment of these volunteers is vital in preventing the resurgence of terror groups and supporting the local economies.  The Government of Iraq (GoI) took over responsibility from the Coalition for the financial compensation of the SoI, marking a shift in how the SoI programs are administered.This process began with the Baghdad SoI's in October 2008 and ending with transfer of the Salah ad-Din SoI's on April 1, 2009.

The integration process has been viewed with concern by all involved parties.  Many SoI members have insurgent backgrounds that disqualify them from recruitment into the Iraqi military or police, limiting their options for employment.  This has left the GoI in the difficult position of employing SoI with links to insurgents or risking serious disenfranchisement among the SoI.  Budget reductions have also complicated integration efforts. 

Delays in employment and payment of salaries have caused frustration among the SoI themselves, who risked their lives for a country which is now finding it difficult to provide for their future needs.  In addition, the Sahwa political movement has garnered extensive support among Sunnis throughout Anbar province despite the fact that the GoI prohibits political parties associated with militias.  Finally, many SoI members distrust the Shi'a government and fear for their well-being in a mostly Shi'a Iraqi Security Force.  hence, sectarian tensions and the future of the Sons of Iraq will remain significant issues.

For further information on these groups and movements, see Backgrounder #23: Sons of Iraq and Awakening Groups