Q: Is the U.S. government paying factions in Iraq not to fight us?
A: We are paying Iraqis, some of whom were formerly hostile insurgents, to police areas and fight terrorists.
In late 2006, some Sunni Iraqis began to turn against foreign terrorist groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq. This is generally referred to as the Sunni Awakening or the Anbar Awakening. The U.S. military acted on this trend, according to the Congressional Research Service:
CRS: In the course of the “troop surge,” U.S. commanders have taken advantage of this Awakening trend by turning over informal security responsibility to 91,000 former militants called “Concerned Local Citizens” (CLC’s) or “Sons of Iraq” in exchange for an end to their anti-U.S. operations.
But the Army says that these individuals are not merely sitting idle. Commanding General of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq David Petraeus elaborated on their role in his testimony to Congress in April, saying the Sons of Iraq are "under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads." He went on to say that they have "contributed to the discovery of improvised explosive devices and weapons and explosives caches."
And of course, these contracts come at a cost. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. is paying about $16 million dollars a month to members of the Sons of Iraq. Petraeus emphasized during his testimony that the "savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence — not to mention the priceless lives saved — have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."
Nonetheless, there is movement to shift these costs to the Iraqi government. In May, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure prohibiting the U.S. from funding reconstruction efforts, such as the Sons of Iraq, that cost more than $2 million. And Petraeus says that "over 21,000 [members of the forces] have already been accepted into the Police or Army or other government jobs" and moved over to their payroll.
We received a dozen or so different iterations of this question in the past few weeks and several included details that can be traced to an online article written by Paul Craig Roberts. Roberts is a former member of the Reagan administration and an outspoken critic of the war. In February 2008, he wrote an article criticizing the troop surge in Iraq that has appeared on numerous anti-war sites. It said in part:
Roberts: The real purpose of the "surge" was to hide another deception. The Bush regime is paying Sunni insurgents $800,000 a day not to attack US forces. … Allegedly, the Sons of Iraq are now at work fighting al Qaeda. … This is a much cheaper way to fight a war. We can only wonder why Bush didn’t figure it out sooner.
We take no stance on Roberts’ opinion of the surge or the program. But we would note that "deception" is a strong word to use for a program we were able to research with a few quick Google searches.
And his math is a bit off. If you take the $16 million per month figure provided by the military to CFR, that calculates to a little more than $500,000 a day, significantly less than Roberts alleges.
– Justin Bank
Katzman, Kenneth, "CRS Report RL31339: Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security," Congressional Research Service. Last Updated 4 June 2008.
Bruno, Greg, "The Role of the ‘Sons of Iraq’ in Improving Security," Council on Foreign Relations. 25 April 2008.
Weisman, Jonathan, "Senate Panel Moves to Shift Cost of War to Iraq," Washington Post. 5 May 2008.