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Training Opens Doors for Former ‘Sons of Iraq’

By Army Sgt. David Hodge
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 29, 2008 – Instructors from the Jihad Civil Services Department are teaching job skills to former “Sons of Iraq” citizen security group members in southern Baghdad's Rashid district.

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An instructor teaches students how to interpret gauges on a generator during a hands-on portion of an electrical engineering class at the Jihad Civil Services Department in southern Baghdad, Dec. 24, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Hodge
  

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About 400 students attend the six-month vocational school, said Wissam al-Kinani, CSD principal, adding that about 100 of the students are former Sons of Iraq members.

"If this project didn't exist, the students would have a choice -- to be criminals or constructive citizens," Kinani said. "We give them the opportunity to become constructive citizens, to learn something, a profession, so they can go out in the Jihad community and be somebody."

With an improved economy in the northwest Rashid area -- due to an increase in open shops and home construction -- the job outlook is “looking good for the CSD graduates,” said Army 1st Lt. Matthew Wilden of the 4th Infantry Division’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.

"I can't speak for all of Baghdad, but this area has improved a lot since we got here," Wilden said. "They will at least come out with some good skills and be able to find a job.”

The goal, Wilden said, is eventually to place all Sons of Iraq members into a civil services department or in the Iraqi security forces.

The Iraqi security forces and CSD have opened their doors to most of Rashid's 7,500 Sons of Iraq members as they transition under the care of the Iraqi government, officials said.

As the former security personnel get other jobs, the Sons of Iraq program should fade away, Wilden said. As the security situation continues improving, the citizen security groups will not really be needed, he explained, so job training will allow former Sons of Iraq to remain productive members of society.

The Jihad CSD offers 11 training areas, including commercial driving, electrical engineering and basic medicine.

Saad Shekher Mishjen, a former Sons of Iraq member who attends the commercial driving course at the CSD, said he never imagined the studies would be so in-depth.

"When I came here, the project and the classes went beyond my expectations. I never imagined it would be like this," said Mishjen, who said he hopes to find work with the Iraqi government after his training.

Oday Hashim Wahib, a medical student at the CSD, is a former Sons of Iraq member with a degree in biology from Baghdad University. Wahib said he considered pursuing a career in the Iraqi security forces, but believes he made the right choice by attending the CSD.

"At the school, we are studying," he said. "We get useful information."

Kinani said he hopes the students use the education to improve their outlook on life.

"I am a business owner," he said. "I could generate more money doing my business, but because I believe in this project, because I believe in my people, I want them to change their lives. That is why I and the teachers are here. We believe these people will be good members of society."

(Army Sgt. David Hodge serves in the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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Related Sites:
Multinational Corps Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageCommercial driving students crowd around the engine compartment of a small truck to study its components while attending classes at the civil services department in the Jihad community of southern Baghdad, Dec. 24, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Hodge  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn instructor from the Jihad Civil Services Department teaches students common street signs found on the roadways in Iraq in the Jihad community of southern Baghdad, Dec. 24, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Hodge  
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