Iraq: The raveling (II)


A graphic from The New York Times pithily compares statistical progress on the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Iraq’s numbers are heartening, with dramatic year-over-year reductions in civilian deaths, Iraqi Security Force deaths, and US troop deaths in November 2009.

An update on one statistic is even more positive: In December, there were only three US troop deaths, and none of them were combat-related. Much of this decline is related to US withdrawal, but the fact that these numbers track with those for Iraqi Security Forces shows that it is also a reflection of Iraq’s drastically improved security.

One of the metrics on The New York Times‘ chart remains problematic: Of the 89,000 predominantly-Sunni Sons of Iraq (SOI) militia members, only 24,000 have been hired into government service. Joel Wing warns that the Iraqi government will begin closing down SOI checkpoints in 2010 and has only agreed to pay the militiamen through the end of the year. He digs into the detail:

At the end of December 2009, the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq said that the integration of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) by the government would be delayed until after the March 2010 parliamentary elections. When the details of the handover were originally worked out in 2008, Baghdad agreed to give 20%, roughly 19,000 SOI jobs in the security forces, and the rest would get other government work by the end of 2009. Budget problems and mistrust by the Shiite ruling parties meant this was an impossibility. Many members of the SOI are also illiterate and lack jobs skills, and many of the jobs being offered are menial ones like picking up garbage. By October only around 9,500 SOI had gotten security jobs, 6,800 had gotten work in the government, and 8,800 had found employment elsewhere. That left roughly 70,000 SOI with uncertain futures.

I’m not sure about his stats; open source reports tallied 21,300 SOI hired as of August 27, 2009. Of this number, 18,000 were hired into the police or army (72% of promised security jobs) and 3,300 into “other civil service” positions (4.46% of promised civil service quota). I’m uncertain which set of numbers is correct, though the overall totals are comparable.

According to The New York Times, 24,000 SOI have been hired into government service as of November. If you add in Wing’s October metric of 8,800 who “found employment elsewhere,” this leaves up to 56,200 armed men possibly without jobs as of January 1, 2011. They remain a potential flashpoint. Wing’s prescription:

A similar number will probably get employment in 2010, leaving the majority still relying upon checks from Baghdad. It will then be up to the U.S. to either keep pressure on the authorities for more to be integrated or to simply let the issue drop, leaving the SOI to their own devices.

A third option is maintaining some sort of SOI payroll prior to integration. Obviously Baghdad keeping Sunni men on the dole to steer them away from trouble is not a long-term solution, but it’s also not exactly unusual for Iraq, which has maintained a welfare state of centralized payroll, pension, and rationing systems for decades.

In addition, the “cost” of rejoining the insurgency has gone up with the increase in Iraqi security forces and the unpopularity of al Qaeda and other previously well-funded takfiri cells. It is not clear that a return to insurgency is an inevitable or appealing option for unemployed Sunnis.

The ultimate employment of the rest of the militiamen will hinge on how much power is obtained by different ideologies in this year’s national election. Victorious nationalists and (relatively) secular realists will be more amenable to reintegration. An ascendance by Shiite religious parties (some of which have made secular noises since losing popularity) would of course bode poorly for any rapid hiring of jobless Sunnis.

True to my default state since late 2007, I remain gingerly optimistic.

UPDATE: Mr. Wing comments that his numbers are derived from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction report from Oct. 09. I would agree with him that these assessments are probably more accurate and skeptical than my open source media reports from August. The overall totals are similar, but the relative proportions of security vs. non-security hiring are significantly different, with the SIGI report showing much less fulfillment of the security quota.

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  • JAing says:

    the numbers I used for integrated SOI came from the last Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction report from Oct. 09. I think they’re one of the most reliable sources.

  • Abu Nasr says:

    I am curious as to why you chose November as your watermark month. According to November 2009 and November 2008 were the lowest numbers of ISF deaths for their respective years.
    Dec 09 – 34
    Nov 09 – 18
    Oct 09 – 35
    Sep 09 – 62
    Dec 08 – 74
    Nov 08 – 27
    Oct 08 – 48
    Sep 08 – 98

  • Bill Ardolino says:

    Joel –
    Thanks for the info, post has been updated.
    Abu Nasr –
    No significant reason – I referenced November because that happens to be the month the New York Times used in the year-over-year-over-year comparison in the chart I was commenting on.
    I assume that lower November totals have to do with the occurence of the Hajj and Eid al-Adha in that month. This could be a consequence of lower insurgent activity, the Iraqi Army’s liberal leave policy, or both.
    Aside from the seasonality in absolute monthly totals, November 09 showed a 33.3% decline in ISF deaths, whereas September showed a 36.7% decline, October showed a 27.1% decline, and December showed a 54% decline. The year-over-year trend among all months is fairly consistent, which of course is good news.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    It’s encouraging to see the infrastructure improvements over the years.

  • My2Cents says:

    They need to provide the Favorability Ratings for the government as well as the insurgents.
    All too often these days it comes down to who is least unpopular, and that is in the US!


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