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The Obama administration is considering forming anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan. The effort would be similar to one in Iraq. Militias there called the Sons of Iraq are credited with helping to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq. But the militia program has run into trouble. As NPR's Corey Flintoff reports, the groups say that they've fallen on hard times since they came under the control of the Iraqi government.

COREY FLINTOFF: This is Baqouba, a dusty farming hub about 35 miles north of Baghdad. Farm tractors share the road with horse carts and cars outside the city market. Baqouba seems quiet today, like a county seat in a farm state. It's the capital of Diyala province. In 2007, it was declared by al-Qaida to be the capital of its shadowy Islamic state of Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi forces fought al-Qaida in the streets of Baqouba and in the orange and date-palm groves around the city. It wasn't until September of 2007 that U.S.-led troops regained control here. Some say they couldn't have done it without the help of the Sahwa, the Arabic word for awakening. They were known to Americans as the Sons of Iraq. Militias made up of former Sunni insurgents who turned against al-Qaida and help drive them from the area.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: A top police official in Baqouba says the Sahwa played a major role in keeping al-Qaida from coming back by securing their own areas. The official declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: The official says that after security improved, tensions began to arise between the Iraqi government forces and the Sahwa, especially after the Sahwa moved from American to Iraqi control. Sahwa leaders were arrested, he says, sometimes on criminal charges that were trumped up as revenge by family members of al-Qaida fighters.

Mr. HAJI KHALID(ph) (Sahwa Leader, Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: This Sahwa leader, who calls himself Haji Khalid, is taking no chances. We met him in a quiet street at the edge of the city, then drove with him to another house, where he agreed to be interviewed.

Mr. KHALID: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Haji Khalid says that if anyone from Sahwa shows his face in the city, he will very likely be detained the very next day on false charges. He says the problem is partly political, as proven during the run-up to last January's provincial elections.

Mr. KHALID: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Haji Khalid says that Sahwa leaders who announced they were running for office were promptly arrested, and many remain in prison. The police intelligence officer confirms that provincial officials are wary of the Sahwa gaining political influence.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says that because the government considers the Sahwa to be members of armed groups, it's hesitant to allow them into Iraq's volatile political mix. When it took control of the Sahwa, the government promised to integrate as many of them as possible into the army, the police or government jobs. U.S. military officials say the Sahwa numbered about 94,000 nationwide at their peak in the fall of 2008. Since then, about 21,000 have been recruited into the Iraqi security forces, but that effort has been stalled by a government hiring freeze prompted by low oil prices.

Mr. KHALID: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Haji Khalid says his own force has dwindled from nearly 10,000 to around 8,500 � some killed or crippled in the fight with al-Qaida, some arrested by the government. He says the government has drastically cut salaries for the remaining Sahwa members, and failed to pay them on time. Haji Khalid says al-Qaida still has sleeper cells in Diyala and that the province could descend again into chaos if the Sahwa stop maintaining security.

Mr. KHALID: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: A top official in the Diyala provincial government acknowledges there is a growing frustration among the Sahwa members who haven't gotten jobs. He asked that his name not be used because he was critical of the national government, saying it lacked the political maturity to give Sahwa members the recognition they deserve. The Iraqi government's budget for paying Sahwa members is due to run out at the end of this month. But two days after the terrorist bombings that killed more than 120 people in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told parliament that it should keep paying the Sahwa and bringing them into the security forces. He may be calculating that Iraq needs all the security it can get.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.

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