The U.S.military has just signed its final paychecks on one of the riskier programs it’s ever undertaken: inducing the coalescence of ex-Sunni insurgents into the quasi-governmental militias called the Sons of Iraq. The program was hated and opposed by the Shiite-led government, and now that government is in control of it, officially beginning its payroll to the militias on April 1.

This program has always represented a division between U.S. goals in Iraq and those of the Shiite government. The U.S. wanted to reduce its pool of enemies in Iraq and give them a stake in the government. But the Shiite leadership wanted to ensure a stable future for a Shiite-run state. One of the more hopeful signs in Iraq these days is that the Shiites do not appear to be thinking in zero-sum terms anymore. But they still fear that the armed Sunnis aim to infiltrate and subvert a still-weak state, and that can spool off into dangerous directions.

"This is a great step in the right direction," Sheik Farhan, a Sons of Iraq leader in the Sudayra region, said. "Each day the government of Iraq is growing stronger, and we are becoming more independent."

It’s now the responsibility of the Iraqi government to make sure Farhan feels as if he has a stake in peaceful governance. If that happens, one of the greatest counterinsurgency gambles of all will be vindicated.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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