American-backed Sunni militias who have fought Sunni extremists to a standstill in some of Iraq's bloodiest battlegrounds are being hit with a wave of assassinations and bomb attacks, threatening a fragile linchpin of the military's strategy to pacify the nation.
At least 100 predominantly Sunni militiamen, known as Awakening Council members or Concerned Local Citizens, have been killed in the past month, mostly around Baghdad and the provincial capital of Baquba, urban areas with mixed Sunni and Shiite populations, according to Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani. At least six of the victims were senior Awakening leaders, Iraqi officials said.
Violence is also shaking up the Awakening movement, many of whose members are former insurgents, in its birthplace in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province. On Sunday, a teenage suicide bomber exploded at a gathering of Awakening leaders, killing Hadi Hussein al-Issawi, a midlevel sheik, and three other tribesmen.
Born nearly two years ago in Iraq's western deserts, the Awakening movement has grown to an 80,000-member nationwide force, four-fifths of whose members are Sunnis. American military officials credit that force, along with the surge in United States troops, the Mahdi Army's self-imposed cease-fire and an increase in Iraqi security forces, for a precipitous drop in civilian and military fatalities since July.
But the recent onslaught is jeopardizing that relative security and raising the prospect that the groups' members might disperse, with many rejoining the insurgency, American officials said.