IRAQ: Government late paying Sunni fighters’ salaries
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Six-months into the transfer of U.S.-backed Sunni fighters to Iraqi government control, the relationship between the Iraqi government and Sunni paramilitaries is still marred by distrust. The latest hiccup has been the budget woes of the Iraqi government, with bureaucratic snafus resulting in a failure to pay many of the Sunni paramilitaries, called the Sons of Iraq, in Baghdad for just over a month.
The U.S. military says the delay is the result of accounting complications, with the funding for the Sons of Iraq being switched from the Ministry of Defense to the Interior Ministry. “Payments will resume this week,” U.S. military spokesman Col. Bill Buckner said.
For their part, Sunni fighters are deeply skeptical that the government will pay them. They also doubt that the Iraqi government will fulfill a long-standing pledge to absorb their numbers of more than 90,000 into the security forces and government jobs. After not receiving their wages for last month, some Sons of Iraq have stopped reporting to work in neighborhoods like Adhamiyah. The next few weeks will be a test to see whether salary payments resume throughout Baghdad.
“We are pushing people to keep working in the [Sons of Iraq] by telling them this is your neighborhood. You should sacrifice, but the question here is for how long they can stand [not getting paid],” said Ghassan Abu Yousuf, a local Sons of Iraq leader in Adhamiya.
“A lot of officials promised us many things before the elections but … they forgot us. ... They should pay the salaries of the [Sons of Iraq], which is less than a soldier’s.”
A Sons of Iraq leader in the onetime Al Qaeda in Iraq stronghold of Ghazaliyah in western Baghdad also worried about desertions. “[Our] elements started to leave their jobs, the salary is not enough, and many of them have to pay the rents of their houses. Also they have families to support,” said Shujaa Naji Shaker al-Demi. “This is not good. These are fighters who stood against Al Qaeda. Their talent should not be wasted.”
-- Usama Redha and Ned Parker