In 2007, after experiencing large losses and increased violence in Iraq, the U.S. adopted a new counterinsurgency strategy that included a troop increase as well as a new emphasis on cooperation with the Iraqi population. Coalition forces succeeded in co-opting tribal leaders, alienated by al-Qaeda’s extremist ideology and brutal tactics, and “turned formerly passive supporters as well as some former insurgents into active supporters of the counterinsurgency effort.” They convinced tribal leaders to recruit young men, mostly Sunni-Arabs, and created volunteer security forces around the country.
The new alliance with Sunni tribes began in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, where Sheikh Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, also known as Abu Risha, spearheaded the Awakening Movement to rid the area of al-Qaeda militants. Sattar struck a deal with U.S. forces in which he provided recruits for a local security force in exchange for U.S. assistance in building and securing police stations in the Ramadi area. The deal proved successful, and the U.S. trained hundreds of local volunteers. Security in Ramadi gradually improved. The success was duplicated elsewhere and the Awakening Movement spread across the country. By spring of 2008, the local volunteer forces, now called Sons of Iraq (SoI), were present at nearly two thirds of Iraqi provinces.
It was clear that the short-term goal of the Sons of Iraq program was achieved. In most areas in which they operated, security and stability increased. The program complemented the operations of Coalition and Iraqi forces, allowing them to accomplish far more then they could otherwise have been able to on the security front. As the security situation improved, far fewer SoI recruits were needed to maintain stability and U.S. forces began to transition the members to other professions in the private and public sectors.
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