BAGHDAD — A broad plan to absorb Sunni Muslim militiamen who battled al-Qaida in Iraq into national security forces or government jobs is at risk of being derailed by lukewarm political support and limited funding, officials say.
Integrating the militias, known as the Sons of Iraq or Awakening Councils, is a key concern for Iraq's Sunni minority, which feels it has been squeezed out of power by the Shiite majority and ignored despite its role in fighting the insurgency. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is already struggling to show he can create an inclusive government after barely garnering enough support to keep his job.
Iraqi military officials put together a 17-point draft plan, obtained by the Associated Press, that is by far the broadest proposal yet to help the estimated 51,900 Sunni fighters who sided with U.S. forces at the height of Iraq's insurgency. Their support created a crucial turning point in the war.
The plan, dated Sept. 5, has the support of U.S. military who want to see the Sons of Iraq taken care of before American troops leave the country by the end of 2011.
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Among the provisions are plans for nearly 24,000 fighters — those with high-school educations — to be placed in the Iraqi military or police forces. Those with university degrees would be given their pick of federal ministry jobs, while those with only elementary school education would be offered jobs in local or provincial governments.
But al-Maliki's advisers say local officials and the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry are pushing back, claiming they don't have the budgets to hire the thousands of new personnel. As a result, the advisers say, the plan won't work.
The slowness in dealing with the militias has been a sore spot for Sunnis.
Al-Maliki's political party fell shy of winning the most seats in March parliamentary elections, bested by the secular Iraqiya coalition that promised Sunnis they would be represented fairly in the government and security forces.
Nothing has been done to advance the militiamen's integration since the vote, and Sons of Iraq militiamen continue to be targeted almost daily by Sunni insurgents who call them traitors.