Possibly hundreds of members of Iraq's Awakening Councils, a group affiliated with the US military, have switched their loyalty to Al-Qaeda, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Citing unnamed Iraqi government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents, the newspaper said that although there were no firm figures, hundreds of fighters appear to have rejoined Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia in recent months.
Many of them would have gained extensive knowledge about the US military, it said.
Officials also said that possibly thousands of Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll covertly aid the insurgency, the report said.
The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from Al-Qaeda, the paper said.
The defections have accelerated since Iraq's inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have in the country.
The switch in loyalties by Awakening members poses a new threat to Iraq's social and political balance as the US military prepares to withdraw next year, The Times noted.