The Iraqi journalist Amir al-Kabisi writes on al-Jazeera Talk that the Islamic Army of Iraq's denunciation of al-Qaeda may be the most dangerous document since America occupied Iraq. He argues that the IAI denunciation of the Iraqi Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Iraq represents a new consensus among the rest of the insurgency's factions: not only the IAI, but HAMAS Iraq (the 1920 Revolution Brigade) and the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance and Jaysh al-Fatahayn and Jaysh al-Mujahideen and others. All of these factions, he argues are fed up with AQI and are serious in their calls to bin Laden to rein it in. And, he argues, the IAI statement may soon have a snowball effect, as factions which have thus far remained silent now speak up about their concerns. He sees the formation of the new Council for Iraqi Ulema as another sign of this, since that Council justifies itself on the basis of the need to establish a legitimate source of authoritative fatwas - implicitly rejecting the fatwas issued by al-Qaeda in Iraq. If bin Laden does not respond quickly, writes Kabisi, then al-Qaeda in Iraq could be the biggest loser and the United States the biggest beneficiary in the short term.
Al-Hayat, by contrast, reports that divisions between the various insurgency factions are (surprise!) inhibiting the formation of an anti-AQ coalition. It confirms ("from reliable sources") Kabisi's claim that all of the above factions have been in dialogue over forming such a coalition - in joint anger over the ISI's "with us or against us" demand, and it's alleged attacks on leaders of other factions - but that differences among the leaders have gotten in the way.
There's a lot of other commentary beginning to appear, in the Arab media and online. On the jihadi forums, tempers are running hot. The commentary on the al-Tajdeed forum on Shaykh Hamed al-Ali's criticism of the Iraqi Islamic State ran to 36 printed pages yesterday afternoon. The al-Buraq forum issued a lengthy statement apologizing for publishing it, despite their long-standing cordial relations with the IAI, and categorically denounced its content: the IAI erred in issuing it, since it served no interests other than those of the Jews and the kuffar and the Crusaders, and now should waste no time in declaring fealty to the Islamic State of Iraq. Numerous other postings have denounced the IAI for collaborating with the Americans, for dividing the umma, and so on. On the other side, Nahid Hattar - a Jordanian nationalist supportive of the insurgency - praises the IAI's communique as a "brave step" and an important affirmation of the nationalist, Iraq-focused nature of the insurgency against al-Qaeda's misguided global ambitions.
What does all this mean? First, we shouldn't necessarily make any rosy assumptions about the tide turning against al-Qaeda. Greg Gause has persuasively argued here over the last few days that it is at least as plausible that these are all signs of the growing strength of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Qaeda, with Hamas-Iraq and the Islamic Army of Iraq acting out of desperation over defections and splits in their own ranks. Evan Kohlmann similarly notes that "While it is tempting to think that Al-Qaida may be dramatically losing appeal among Sunni insurgents, one must also be mindful that this new letter may, more precisely, be a sign of a major split within the IAI itself, similar to what has just happened in the 1920 Revolution Brigades." While it's hard to get reliable information about this kind of stuff, what I have seen does not allow me to rule out this pessimistic interpretation - and, indeed, I'm personally inclined to agree.
But suppose that Gause and Kohlmann are wrong, and that these statements do indicate the tide turning against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Qaeda in Iraq. The implications of that are not as favorable to the United States as some might believe. These insurgent groups are not lashing out at al-Qaeda/ISI because they want to surrender - they are lashing out because they want to fight a more effective insurgency against the American occupation and put an end to what they describe as al-Qaeda's internally divisive actions. The Council of Iraqi Ulema may have implicitly criticized al-Qaeda, but it also issued a clear fatwa authorizing the Islamic resistance to American occupation. So this may have little impact in terms of attacks on Americans, regardless of who prevails, and indeed if ISI/AQ loses out we might see an even more effective and united insurgency against the US.
On the other hand, both the Hamas-Iraq and the Islamic Army of Iraq's statements go to pains to make clear that they consider their jihad to be exclusive to ending the occupation of Iraq. Both statements offer some assurances (mainly to neighboring Arab states, I assume) that once the American occupation ends they would not consider it appropriate to take their jihad further afield - in stark contrast to statements made by al-Qaeda in Iraq/the Islamic State of Iraq. In a way, then, this offers a rebuttal to one of the main current American justifications for not withdrawing from Iraq - that al-Qaeda would establish a safe haven in the Sunni areas which would become a new base.
To the extent that this emerging anti-ISI/AQ grouping consolidates, then, it might mean two things: first, that violent insurgent operations against American troops would increase in scale and efficiency; but second, that the violent jihad, understood as a nationalist rather than global insurgency, might be more likely to come to an end after an American withdrawal. Several of the supportive commentaries about the ISI statement, in fact, highlight the willingness of the insurgency to negotiate with the US, but only on the terms of an American withdrawal. In other words: the emergence of this anti-AQ Sunni insurgency coalition (if in fact this is what is happening) would only really be good news for the United States if the US moves towards withdrawal. Otherwise, it would just mean a stronger and more effective, popular, and legitimate insurgency. All just speculation for now, but perhaps this can push the discussion a bit farther along.