Not sure how much to make of this, but thought I would at least throw this out there. The official Muslim Brotherhood site reports that the Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq and its military wing the 1920 Revolution Brigades has changed its name to "Islamic Resistance Movement HAMAS in Iraq".
The change of name is presented as a fresh start after four years of successful resistance to occupation, and as a signal of its intentions in a coming new phase. The change of name signals that it seeks only to liberate Iraq from American occupation and has no intention of exporting jihad to Arab or Muslim neighbors. It similarly addresses the American people, saying that it has no desire to attack Americans but that the war had been forced upon them by the occupation; should the occupation end, Americans should not fear further attacks. It calls on all Islamic resistance movements to join with it and to cooperate, and on Arab states to vocally support the resistance. According to the Ikhwan Online story, the change was welcomed by Mohamed al-Kabisi, identified as a representative of the Association of Muslim Scholars (though I've found no comment from Harith al-Dhari and nothing appears on the AMS website).
What makes this potentially interesting is that it is being publicized by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has no love for al-Qaeda and has . The statement makes no mention whatsoever of the Iraqi Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq's controversial attempt to unite the Sunni resistance under its banner. Both points suggest that this might be an important challenge to that al-Qaeda project - not from the tribal groups so often reported over the last few years as turning against "al-Qaeda" but from within the Islamist side of the insurgency. It also might be an attempt to reclaim the banner of Islamic resistance in Iraq from al-Qaeda at a wider Islamic level, not only on the ground in Iraq. The explicit overtures to Arab states, as well as what could be seen as the formation of an insurgency coalition capable of being an interlocutor with the Maliki government, might be read in light of reported attempts to forge a new political consensus, however unlikely that currently seems.
All of this is pure speculation right now - I've not yet seen any reaction to it which might give some insight into its significance - but it certainly bears watching, and I'll try to check in on it more later today.
UPDATE: elevated from comments, this useful note from Greg Gause:
Al-Hayat a few days ago (I forget whether it was Saturday or Sunday's paper) reported on this, portraying it as a split within the Kata'ib al-'Ashriin between those who were willing to do along with the growing al-Qa'ida-ization of parts of the Sunni insurgency and those who did not like that trend and were willing to do a deal with the government. Part of the split, according to the article, was tribal, in that one group (sorry, I forget which tribe it is, maybe the Jubour) was appalled at the al-Qa'ida practice of assassinating al-Anbar leaders who were not toeing their line, including many of their own people. The report also said that this break-away group had the blessing of the AMS and Harith al-Dari, and that in fact one of al-Dari's relatives was one of those assassinated by the al-Qa'ida types.
One can read this two ways, of course: 1) Hurray! Real splits in the Sunni insurgency, a real set-back to al-Qa'ida. I hope that is it; or 2) that al-Qa'ida is actually making headway in its efforts to take over the Sunni insurgency, in effect forcing a rump group from a major insurgent/Sunni Arab organization to leave because the organization itself has gone with AQI. This is an empirical question, but I would not be as quick as the esteemed Abu Ardvaark to discount the possibility that AQI is making real headway. Two years ago I would have discounted this possibility also. Now I am not so sure. The dynamics of violent resistance favor the most extreme over long periods of time. When I read interviews with leaders in the Anbar Salvation Council, they do not sound like guys who are winning. Meanwhile AQI has declared the Islamic State in Iraq, has set up an information office and seems to be doing stuff that indicates some amount of institutionalization.
These are straws in the wind, I realize. I do not know what is going on in al-Anbar and Diyala and Baghdad. If anybody does, please let us know. But right now, I am not ready to read this bit of news as unabashedly positive as the noble and enlightened author of this invaluable blog.
As I said down in the comments, thanks to Greg for spotting the al-Hayat article, which I must have missed when I was on the road. I must have written the post confusingly, because I hadn't meant to imply either that this was necessarily "good news" or that the ISI was necessarily doing poorly - this post wasn't meant as an argument one way or the other, just as a report of a data point which I hadn't seen reported anywhere. I would actually incline towards agreeing with Greg's more pessimistic reading of the situation on the Sunni side, alas. The endless stories over the last few years of the Sunni tribes turning against al-Qaeda have hardened me to putting too much faith in any of those predictions - and as I've written several times over the last few months, AQI statements sound pretty confident to my ears... I just have not been hearing the desperation or flailing which is widely attributed to them. But that's a topic for another day...
UPDATE... and be sure to see Greg Gause's further investigations in the comment section below.