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In Iraq, over the last three weeks, at least 19 members of a paramilitary force that was supported by the U.S. military have been killed. Scores more of the so-called Sons of Iraq have been wounded in assassination attempts. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro recently traveled to the province of Diyala where she discovered a climate of fear among the men who many credit for helping defeat al-Qaida in Iraq.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sheikh Hussam has not gotten rich fighting al-Qaida in Iraq. A member of the Sons of Iraq for the past three years, he sits in a small concrete structure. The walls are mostly bare. The cushions on the floor are thin and scuffed.

He says matter-of-factly how he just survived yet another assassination attempt the day before our interview.

Sheikh HUSSAM (Member, Sons of Iraq): (Through Translator) I was going on duty. I usually take this road, and I was targeted by two roadside bombs.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Sons of Iraq became a powerful force in 2007, at the height of the so-called surge. Former militants and tribal leaders, they turned against al-Qaida and fought alongside the Americans.

In 2009, their fate was left in the hands of Iraqi government, which agreed to pay the men and eventually either integrate them into the armed forces or give them civilian jobs.

But, says Sheikh Hussam, scores have been arrested over the past year by the government. Others have fled the country, leaving a sense of bitterness here among the remaining Sons of Iraq.

Mr. HUSSAM: (Through Translator) The security forces have hit at the Sons of Iraq, detained them, insulted them using sectarian words, and taken their weapons without any reason and without a warrant. The future of the Sons of Iraq, in my opinion, is either that al-Qaida kills us or we end up in jail.

(Soundbite of truck closing)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Sons of Iraq still man checkpoints in Diyala alongside the police and army, but many complain they are no longer receiving their salaries.

Ahmed Hussein Ali works here checking IDs and looking through the trunks of cars.

Mr. AHMED HUSSEIN ALI (Member, Sons of Iraq): (Through Translator) For the record, we have more than 50 people who have not gotten paid. Their names all of a sudden were not on the list. Frankly speaking, the situation is bad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there are fears that the situation may get even worse.

Across town, another militia leader, Haji Khalid, says that it's unclear if the new government will keep its promises to the Sons of Iraq. Political parties in Baghdad are locked in bitter negotiations over who will get to form the next government, and no one knows yet who will come out on top.

Mr. HAJI KHALID (Militia Leader): (Through Translator) For sure we are worried. If a patriotic government is put in place, our position will be assured. But if an unpatriotic one is put in power, the Sons of Iraq will be threatened. This is beyond question.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sons of Iraq leaders say they don't know who is behind the assassiation attempts. They say it could be remaining al-Qaida in Iraq elements out to get revenge. Some allege Iranian agents are responsible.

The U.S. military maintains the Sons of Iraq deaths are on a downward trend. In April and May this year, 36 militia members were killed. For the same period in 2009, there were 41 killings. During the worst of the fighting with al-Qaida, around 130 Sons of Iraq were being killed every two months.

Still, for militia member Sheikh Hussam, who's been repeatedly targeted, the statistics offer small comfort.

Mr. HUSSAM: (Through Translator) The Americans did not betray us. They sentenced us and our families to death. They supported us in fighting al-Qaida, but then suddenly they left us caught between two enemies, al-Qaida and Iran. That is America's legacy here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he says he does not expect to survive the next time someone tries to kill him.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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