** note updates at the bottom **
Following up on my discussions of developments between the Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and the rest of the Sunni insurgency. Al-Hayat, which a few days ago expressed skepticism about the possibility of the various Sunni insurgency factions overcoming their differences in order to unite against al-Qaeda, today reports something very different. According to the unsigned story, the Islamic Army of Iraq is close to forming a new "Alliance of Sunni Armed Groups" («تحالف للجماعات المسلحة السنية) under its leadership. A source close to the groups told al-Hayat the the main purposes of the Alliance will be to continue the armed resistance against the American occupation and to combat the "deviant ideas" being spread by al-Qaeda and its armed operations against Iraqis. As I argued in my Guardian article, it's crucial to see that this Alliance puts the highest priority on continuing to fight the "legitimate jihad" against the occupation, as well as protecting the beleaguered Sunni community. While al-Hayat's reporting supports my arguments, a few caveats are worth noting. First, al-Hayat has repeatedly reported over the last few years that Sunnis turning against al-Qaeda, and so its reporting here might be taken with a grain of salt. Also, note that the article is unsigned. Finally, note that it only says that the groups plan to do this - not that it's already achieved. In other words, it's a report worth paying attention to, but not definitive by any means.
Al-Quds al-Arabi, for its part, today publishes a statement from the insurgency faction Jaysh al-Rashideen (one of the factions which has been included in reports about this new anti-AQ coalition) which denounces the stories about insurgency negotiations with the Americans as lies spread to distort the image of the jihad and confuse the faithful. It also denies having any differences with al-Qaeda in Iraq, which would cut against the reporting in al-Hayat and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, al-Jazeera has an important interview up with Ibrahim Shamri, spokesman of the Islamic Army of Iraq. This interview confirms most of the points in my article about the IAI's direction. Shamri explains that the IAI's jihad is exclusively focused on resisting the occupation of Iraq, and declines to offer any substantive vision of how a future Iraq might be governed. He denies having any relations whatsover with al-Qaeda, but expresses respect for the Association of Muslim Scholars and Harith al-Dhari. He is dismissive of the surge and the new security plan, assuring that it will fail as have all the others. Finally, Shamri states clearly that the IAI does not reject in principle negotiating with Americans, under two conditions: that Congress issue a binding resolution committing the United States to a complete withdrawal from Iraq in a specified time frame, and that "the resistance" be recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Iraqi people.
Finally, the Islamic State of Iraq has issued a communique expressing its current stance (available on all the forums where the ISI's communiques regularly appear). While it does not directly refer to the IAI or its other Sunni critics, its overview of the last four years defends its vision of the jihad, claiming the Iraqi jihad as part of the global jihad rather than as an Iraqi national campaign (as in the IAI's recent discourse). The ISI highlights the role of the foreign jihadists, rather than of the Iraqis (as in the IAI's statements) - and claims more than 1000 'martyrdom operations' carried out under its banner. It brags about the number of Rafidhayn (Shia) killed for their collaboration with the Americans, citing Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab as the authority on the evils of the Shia. And it justifies its controversial attacks on Sunnis as a response to the ill-considered decision of the "Sunni traitors" to join in the American project and the "political game." Expect this debate to continue, and to heat up over the coming weeks.
Bonus! The rifts over the Islamic State of Iraq are not only inside of Iraq, they extend throughout the jihadi milieu. According to a post on the al-Tajdeed forum, the Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Mas'ari (who runs the forum) plans to issue a statement in support of Hamed al-Ali's critique of the Islamic State of Iraq. One outraged commenter said that if he does, he will stop reading al-Tajdeed and urge others to do the same. No such statement has yet been issued, but I'll be following it.
LAST UPDATE: to get a sense of what and who I'm arguing against, here, click through the first link in my Guardian piece and read Kimberly Kagan's 15 page report for the Weekly Standard on developments in Anbar. The entire piece is constructed around the assumption that the only players are the Coalition, the tribal shaykhs, and "Al-Qaeda" (which is conflated with the whole Sunni insurgency). The turn against "Al-Qaeda" therefore can only be read as a turn in the Coalition's favor. But add in the reality of intra-insurgency politics, and you can immediately see the problem: to the extent that the new insurgency coalition is - as very much appears to be the case - equally dedicated to fighting the Americans as it is to resisting the Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda)'s hegemony, then the whole narrative falls apart. Intentional conflation or ignorance of these intricacies, I do not know... though neither speaks well for the quality of analysis on the part of the Standard's featured expert analysis. At any rate, this is one of the several reasons why close attention to these developments - which, by the way, do not fit well in any easy partisan package - is so important.
... AND a final, final update: al-Quds al-Arabi today (4/11) reports on a broadside against IAI by an ISI figure, Shaykh Attiyat Allah, who accuses the Islamic Army of Iraq of collaborating with Saudi intelligence and calls on the good mujahideen associated with the IAI to sever their relations with its leadership and join the Islamic State of Iraq.