Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a striking change of course, is embracing the Sunni Muslim tribal fighters whose role in combating al Qaeda he had allowed to wither after U.S. troops left two years ago.

Al Qaeda-linked militants, feeding off widespread Sunni resentment at perceived mistreatment by his Shi’ite-led government, swept into the cities of Falluja and Ramadi two weeks ago in an embarrassing setback to Maliki.

His chances of a third term after a parliamentary election in April hang partly on his ability to project an image as a strong national figure who can impose security and stability. […]