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New killings in campaign against Iraqi ex-insurgents

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two senior members of a government-backed Iraqi militia of former Sunni insurgents were killed on Tuesday, the latest blow in what appears to be a concerted campaign to undermine Iraq’s fragile security gains.

Targeted killings of policemen, soldiers, government officials and ex-insurgents are stoking tensions following a March parliamentary election that produced no clear winner and has yet to yield a government.

The Sahwa, or “Sons of Iraq,” consist of tens of thousands of Sunnis who joined forces with the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces to fight Sunni Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda, helping turn the tide of the sectarian war of 2006/07.

Raad Tami al-Mujamai and Khamis Sabaa al-Aqabi, Sahwa leaders in the town of Buhriz, 60 km (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, were killed in separate attacks, both by bombs attached to their cars, police sources said.

Buhriz lies in volatile Diyala province, a religiously and ethnically mixed region with a Sunni majority and where a stubborn insurgency remains entrenched despite a sharp fall in overall violence.

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Mujamai was a senior member of the Mujamai tribe, one of the largest in Diyala, and the more senior of the two Sahwa leaders killed in Buhriz.

Keeping the Sahwa on side is seen as crucial to defending the significant security gains made over the past 2-3 years, with the United States due to end combat operations in August ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Many have been absorbed into public sector jobs, but some complain that the outgoing Shi’ite-led government is moving too slowly to integrate them and view it with suspicion.

Last week, gunmen shot dead a local Sahwa leader and four members of his family in Falluja, west of Baghdad. Police blamed the killing on al Qaeda.

Many other Sahwa leaders have been targeted by bombings and assassinations in recent weeks in what appear to be either acts of revenge or part of a campaign to scare them back into the ranks of the insurgency.

Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Suadad al-Salhy; Editing by Matt Robinson and Noah Barkin