Iraq's Shiite-led government took command Wednesday of thousands of U.S.-backed mostly Sunni fighters who turned against al-Qaida, vowing to integrate them into public life in recognition of their help in quelling violence.
About 100,000 fighters, known as Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils, had been under U.S. military supervision and were paid by the Americans for the last two years.
They are now being transferred to Iraqi military control. The first group – about 54,000 fighters in the Baghdad area – came under Iraqi supervision Wednesday and will receive their first payments from the government in November.
Over time, the government plans to find them jobs in the army, police or elsewhere in the public sector.
“The government affirms its commitment to integrate the members into public life so that they take part in building Iraq,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
U.S. officials are watching to see whether the government keeps that pledge, fearing that if fighters feel cheated, many will turn on the government.
A U.S. military spokesman, Capt. Charles Calio, said the time line for transferring control of the Sons of Iraq located outside of Baghdad has yet to be determined.
“The transition will be paced as conditions allow so that security can be maintained,” he said in an e-mail.
He praised the Sunni fighters, saying they “continue to play a significant role in improving and maintaining security throughout the country.”
Despite government assurances, many Sunni fighters are suspicious of Shiite authorities and were distressed when the Americans agreed to transfer responsibility to Iraqi leaders.