Finally: Iraqi government to start integrating Sunnis into security forces

Tens of thousands of Sunni tribesmen came over to the U.S. side as part of the various anti-AQ “awakening” movements around the country. The military’s been begging Maliki to do something with them before they throw up their hands and walk away. And now, at last:

Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government has agreed to take over support of a U.S.-funded plan that has organized thousands of Iraqis — including former insurgents and their sympathizers — into local security groups…

Iraq intends to move the guards into training programs as quickly as possible, [national reconciliation officer Saad] Muttalibi said. “It’s not a good idea to have people with guns running around the streets,” he said…

The Iraqi government eventually wants to disband the local security groups and take 12,000 to 20,000 people into the Iraqi security forces. The remainder would receive job training paid for by the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

Both governments have always viewed the groups as “a stopgap measure where there were insufficient police and security forces,” said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Jones, commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team. “They were never intended to be permanent.”

Why only 12,000 when the Iraqi army needs manpower and there are 50,000 more recruits to be had? For the obvious reason, I’m sure — because the Shiite government’s worried about absorbing too many Sunnis too quickly and risking wholesale sectarian balkanization within the forces (not to mention limiting Sunni access to military hardware). Start small and, if things go well, integrate more later. Although why would they want to? The real goal here for the Shia is to get the guns out of the Sunnis’ hands, not replace what they’ve got with U.S.-made IA-issued M-16s. Hence the importance of the jobs training program: If things work out, they’ve got a token force of 12,000 Sunnis they can point to as proof of their goodwill plus 50,000 more who have traded their Kalashnikovs for lunchboxes. Sweet deal. And if the jobs training doesn’t work out? We’ll be paying them some sort of “salary” anyway. Remember, the cost of compliance for all 67,000 Sunnis in the awakening program amounts to less than the cost of a single Apache helicopter. At that price some economic arrangement will doubtless be reached, probably in the form of manual labor for reconstruction.

If you’re looking for more good news, you’ve found it. Although do note the last line for proper perspective.