Mohamed Abu Roman, one of the smartest Jordanian writers on Islamist issues, turns his attention today to Hamas Iraq. Like me, Abu Roman places the appearance of Hamas Iraq directly within the context of the growing intellectual and political divide within the Sunni insurgency between al-Qaeda on the one hand, and groups such as the Islamic Army of Iraq on the other.
According to Abu Roman, this clash was a long time coming and was widely expected due to the serious underlying strategic and intellectual differences (and thus, though he doesn't say so, has little to do with the American "surge"). What brought these differences to a head, he argues, were the appearance of the Islamic State of Iraq and its attempt to impose its control over the other factions, and the beginning of political negotiations between some insurgency factions and the United States (which al-Qaeda fiercely opposed). Let's just repeat that: the splits within the Iraqi insurgency are driven by al-Qaeda's power grab and by attempted negotiations - not by the surge or the changed American military strategy.
Abu Roman suggests an important role for external Arab and Muslim actors in the formation of Hamas Iraq, particularly on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood (which, as I noted when it happened, took the unusual step of publicizing its initial communique on its official website; also note the significance of the fact that al-Jazeera broadcast an excerpt of its announcement of its political program). The Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world, he writes, sees its choice of a name as a signal of its acceptance of the Brotherhood's program rather than al-Qaeda's. Efforts by the Association of Muslim Scholars, he suggests, are related to this Muslim Brotherhood role (I would bloster Abu Roman's argument here by recalling Harith al-Dhari's extensive tour of Arab states not too long ago). Hamas Iraq is particularly important, he argues, because the official Muslim Brotherhood party (the Iraqi Islamic Party led by Tareq al-Hashemi), has through its participation in the political system grown quite distant from the attitudes of most Iraqi Sunnis and even most Iraqi Muslim Brothers - to say nothing of most Muslim Brothers outside of Iraq. In short, while it is too soon to tell whether Hamas Iraq has some relationship with the Iraqi Islamic Party, its appearance at least suggests the possible emergence of an Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood alternative within the armed insurgency.
Al-Qaeda's supporters, which Abu Roman here defines as the salafiya trend (in which he includes Ansar al-Sunna, which actually doesn't fit his analysis very neatly), are quite afraid of the appearance of such a Muslim Brotherhood alternative. In principle, such a movement could be able to combine real Islamist appeal with a pragmatic political approach - a combination which could prove highly attractive to Iraqi Sunnis who have become more Islamist in their orientation over the last few years but still have little love for al-Qaeda's agenda.
Abu Roman then argues that right now, al-Qaeda appears to be the stronger party in military terms. It is difficult to tell how strong Hamas Iraq will prove to be, until its cadres figure out where they stand and align with one faction or the other. The Islamic Army of Iraq is the second strongest military force, but he sees considerable ambiguity in their stance, despite the hotly contentious public disputes with al-Qaeda. The IAI gave at least a tentatively positive response to Baghdadi's conciliatory speech, and could swing either way. This will obviously be a matter of intense concern to observers of the insurgency's development.
An interesting argument and analysis, obviously largely compatible with what I've been arguing here, and worth a look.
UPDATE: in today's column, Abu Roman publishes a response to his article by Mohamed Bashar al-Fidhi, spokesman of the Association of Muslim Scholars. Fidhi contests two claims in Abu Roman's essay: first, he says that no official representative of the AMS publicly welcomed the formation of Hamas Iraq - the one quoted, Mohamed Ayesh, does not speak for the AMS; second, he says that the AMS has no relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood in any form. Abu Roman responded that he had not known that Ayesh had left the AMS (neither did I), but that he could not agree that the AMS had no Muslim Brotherhood ties given the histories and ideologies of many individuals associated with the AMS.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood's Executive Bureau issued a statement denying any relationship between the MB and Hamas Iraq: "Mursi said in a statement to Ikhwanweb that the Iraq is full of militant organizations that fight the occupation forces; we, in the Muslim Brotherhood, have no relation with any of these organizations, Hamas-Iraq or others. However, Mursi added "Resisting the occupation is legitimate and is supported by all international covenants and laws. So, in principle, Muslim Brotherhood supports resistance against occupation anywhere" added Mursi." Mursi made this statement in response to an unspecified "online report that spoke about a relation between Hamas-Iraq and the Muslim Brotherhood group"; I don't know if this refers to my post or to Abu Roman's article or to something else entirely.