By Anna Badkhen
Aug. 06, 2008 | Donning pale yellow shirts with Iraqi flags stitched on the chest, Alah al-Janabi and Mahmoud al-Samorai stood recently in the blistering sun at the crowded entrance to the bustling Dora Market. Al-Janabi, 30, proudly displayed a shiny black pistol on his hip; al-Samorai, 25, slung his Kalashnikov assault rifle over his shoulder as he patted down a shopper entering the market. Nine months ago, the two men joined the Sons of Iraq -- the U.S.-funded, mostly Sunni organization of 103,000 armed guards that functions as part neighborhood security watch and part paramilitary force, and has been instrumental in tamping down violence in Iraq.
What these men did prior to this work -- when sectarian militias and Iraqi security forces fought pitched battles through the Dora neighborhood, killing and wounding scores of people -- is unclear. When asked, the two looked at each other and shrugged. "There were no jobs," al-Samorai finally said. Maybe he and his colleague hid in their homes while sectarian fighting raged outside. But it is also possible that they fought alongside the Sunni militias, as did many Sons of Iraq members, according to American forces that patrol the area.
"When the SOIs stood up, we were basically hiring terrorists," said Lt. Justin Chabalko, using the military acronym for the Sons of Iraq. Chabalko's 2-4 Infantry Battalion of the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division frequently patrols the Dora Market.