BAGHDAD – The Shiite-led government of Iraq on Wednesday took command of 54,000 Sunni fighters here in the capital in a U.S.-backed effort to ease sectarian mistrust and offer Sunnis a stronger stake in the country’s future.
The fighters, known as the Sons of Iraq, were the first wave of what is expected to be 100,000 Sunnis nationwide to join the army, police and other government agencies. Many of the fighters, however, feared they would be marginalized and discriminated against in a nation with high unemployment, rigid sectarian allegiances and a Shiite majority.
The Sunni militiamen had been under control of U.S. forces. Their cooperation was crucial to curtailing support for al-Qaida militants and calming insurgencies in Anbar, Diyala and other provinces. The U.S. paid each Sunni fighter $300 a month – about the same the Iraqi government is expected to pay.