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Over the past month, militants led by the extremist Islamic State group overpowered the military and the Sahwa, seizing control of most of the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq. The jihadis have systematically killed dozens of former Sahwa leaders, forced others to flee and recruited the remaining foot soldiers through intimidation. The checkered dealings with the Sahwa in recent years drained the Sunni community of any trust in the Baghdad government and particularly in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is seeking a third consecutive four-year term. That presents an immense challenge to inducing the Sunni tribal fighters who turned on al-Qaida once before to risk everything again — even if they wanted to — and side with the government against the new insurgency. Other former Sahwa fighters who have joined the militants say they have severed ties with Baghdad for good. The internal dynamics of the insurgency — such as sometimes divergent interests between the Islamic State group and other Sunnis who have joined its fight — are also unpredictable and could affect the decisions of thousands of individual fighters on whether to stick with the movement.

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