The Washington Post picks up today on the developments I've been following the last week, noting the growing confrontation between the insurgency and al-Qaeda. The Post makes a mistake in the very first sentence (the Islamic Army of Iraq never swore allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq, nor did most of the factions currently challenging al-Qaeda - so it's misleading to say that they are "breaking their association" with it). Despite that, it provides some important supporting evidence for my line of argument, and gets some good quotes from insurgent leaders:
Insurgent leaders, in interviews in person or by telephone, offered different explanations for their split. Many said their link to the al-Qaeda groups was tainting their image as a nationalist resistance force. Others said they no longer wanted to be tools of the foreign fighters who lead al-Qaeda. Their war, they insist, is against only the U.S. forces, to pressure them to depart Iraq.
"We do not want to kill the Sunni people nor displace the innocent Shia, and what the al-Qaeda organization is doing is contradictory to Islam," said Abu Marwan, a religious leader of the Mujaheddin Army in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad. "We will strike whoever violates the boundaries of God, whether al-Qaeda or the Americans."
In other words, the turn against al-Qaeda - as I've been arguing repeatedly - is about fighting a better insurgency against the American occupation, not about swinging over to the American side. At the same time, the Post correctly notes the tentative opening to negotiations with the US (without noting the terms offered, including a concrete American commitment to withdrawal). This is perhaps the most interesting contribution of the article:
The Sunni groups are also divided over entering the political process, said Makki, the member of parliament. His Iraqi Islamic Party is serving as a liaison between the Shiite-led government and the Sunni insurgents, including, he said, the Islamic Army, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and other main groups.
"But mind you, not all of the subgroups of those groups are willing to go in this direction. They are still not convinced about negotiations," Makki said.
"If they maintain their independence from each other and each one has its different strategy, there will be chaos on the ground and chaos at the [negotiating] table," said Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president and leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party.
Saleh al-Mutlaq, another Sunni member of parliament with close links to the insurgent groups, said many were not serious about talking with the government. "They would prefer to talk directly to the Americans," he said. "They don't trust the government. They don't want to see that they are strengthening the government. That's why they want to redraw the political process from the beginning.
"If they do not unite, they will be weakened," Mutlaq said. "Then al-Qaeda will manage to make their Islamic state in Iraq, and it will be a sad day for the country and the world."