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US Military: Iraqi Government Will Pay Sunni Fighters

A top American commander in Iraq says the country's Shi'ite dominated government will accept responsibility for supporting more than 50,000 mostly Sunni fighters currently armed and paid by the U.S. military. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

The commander of the Multinational Corps-Iraq, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, says the U.S. military will transfer responsibility for Sunni fighters known as the Sons of Iraq to the government in Baghdad.

General Austin says 54,000 fighters in Baghdad province will be absorbed into security and civilian jobs next month.

"The Sons of Iraq have paid a heavy price fighting al-Qaida and other insurgent groups and it is important that the government of Iraq responsibly transition them into meaningful employment," he said. "Prime Minister Nouri [al-Maliki] has assured me that the government will help those who help the people of Iraq."

The Sons of Iraq include former insurgents and fighters once loyal to Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military estimates there are about 100,000 members of the group across the country.

Their decision to join the fight against terrorists is credited as a key cause for the decline in violence in Iraq, especially in areas where al-Qaida and other Sunni militants once ruled.

General Austin told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad the volunteer movement that started in Anbar province and swept across Iraq has significantly contributed to the security successes of Iraqi and coalition forces.

"And you should know that we will not abandon the Sons of Iraq," he said. "We will continue to follow up in the future to ensure that they get paid and that they do in fact transition to meaningful employment."

General Austin says about 20 percent of the fighters in Sons of Iraq will go into the Iraqi security forces, mostly as policemen.

He says the others will be transferred to different types of jobs and will receive training for civilian employment.

"This is a significant opportunity for the government to demonstrate to the Iraqi people and to the rest of the world that it is serious about reconciliation and about honoring its promises to the Sons of Iraq," he said.

Austin says Iraqi security forces are growing in confidence and capability, but are not yet ready to take over full security in the country.