By Pfc. Justin Naylor, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsMarch 27, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq - More than a thousand Iraqis stand patiently outside of a gated compound.
Three neatly aligned tables are set up inside the gates. Each table is manned by both Iraqi Army and U.S. Soldiers. Large stacks of Iraqi money rest on the tables awaiting the hands of the hard-working members of the Sons of Iraq.
This was the sight in the city of Sudayra in the province of Kirkuk, Iraq, March 2, where the U.S. military made its last payment to the members of the SoI. The Government of Iraq will assume full responsibility of payments April 1.
U.S. military members played the role of observers as Iraqi soldiers handled making the payments to the SoI.
"This is a great step in the right direction," said Sheikh Farhan, a leader of the SoI in the Sudayra region. "Each day the Government of Iraq is growing stronger, and we are becoming more independent."
"By taking over payments, Iraq is showing us that they are truly taking over from Coalition forces," said Sheikh Razzaq, of the SoI.
"This is one of the many milestones that the GoI is hitting day by day," said Cpt. Justin Michel, commander, Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "This transfer is a necessary step that the GoI is taking to show its citizens that it is taking the lead on more programs."
As security improvements continue in the region, transferring control of the SoI to the GoI is another step in enabling the GoI to control the violence in Iraq.
"The SoI and IA have done a great job so far at improving security," said Michel. "I think that will continue to build upon the foundation they have now and the region will steadily become safer."
"We can reduce violence together," said Razzaq.
Though the U.S. military will no longer be responsible for making SoI payments, they will not be completely removed from the process in the coming months.
"Just because the IA is going to be in control doesn't mean we are going to be gone altogether," said Lt. Col. David Lesperance, commander, 1st Bn., 8th Cav. Regt., 2nd BCT. "The IA, SoI and CF are going to be working side-by-side in the coming months to ensure that the transition goes well."