BAQUBA, Iraq, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. military forces in Iraq said Tuesday they are handing the Sons of Iraq program over to their Iraqi counterparts in four Iraqi provinces in January.
The bilateral security pact between Washington and Baghdad requires U.S. forces to hand over control of the paramilitary Sons of Iraq units in four Iraqi provinces, including the volatile Diyala, Jan 1.
The ethnically diverse province along the Iranian border experienced a spate of violent attacks during the summer. Sons of Iraq forces were the subject of targeted attacks from al-Qaida elements holed up in the region.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer, a reconciliation specialist with the U.S. military, said Sons of Iraq units are integral to local security efforts because of their close links to Iraqi society, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The Sons of Iraq emerged out of the Anbar Awakening in 2005, which brought Sunni tribal elders to power in an effort to drive al-Qaida out of the western province.
"They have been critical to finding caches, bringing down (improvised explosive devices), keeping al-Qaida out of the towns, because they know everybody," Kulmayer said. "They know who's who in their towns and villages."
Iraq said it would incorporate around 20 percent of the force into the Iraqi national police, while the remaining 80 percent would be trained for vocational duties and private employment.