It seems it’s quite “extremist” of them to do so.

Al-Qaida leader Usama bin Laden called for Iraqi insurgents to unite and avoid “extremism” that causes divisions in a new audiotape aired Monday on Al-Jazeera television, trying to overcome splits by some Sunnis who have opposed the terror group’s branch in Iraq…

“I advise myself, Muslims in general and brothers in al-Qaida everywhere to avoid extremism among men and groups,” he said, saying leaders should not build themselves up as the sole authority, and that instead mujahideen should follow “what God and his prophet have said.”

Bin Laden used the Arabic word “ta’assub,” which in traditional Islamic thought means extremism in allegiance or adherence to a group, to a degree that excludes others — apparently advising flexibility to overcome divisions.

“Everybody can make a mistake, but the best of them are those who admit their mistakes,” he said. “Mistakes have been made during holy wars but mujahideen have to correct their mistakes.”

Al Qaeda’s problem all along in trying to consolidate the Sunni insurgency under its banner is that most insurgents are nationalists and Baathists, not Islamic fanatics. Osama wants a transnational jihadist emirate; most of the people he’s fighting alongside simply want to restore Sunni dominion over Iraq. AQ invented the “Islamic State of Iraq” and gave it a phony Iraqi frontman to try to square that circle and coopt nationalist sentiment towards its own ends. That plan went haywire when the foreign Islamist element ran amok in Anbar and inspired the backlash that became the Awakening. So now this is his feeble attempt to heal the rift, including acknowledgment of “mistakes” — although I think the mistakes he has in mind are those supposedly committed by the Sunni insurgents in not accepting shari’a, not the ones committed by his own boys in, say, detonating chlorine truck bombs outside schools in Sunni areas. What’s especially humiliating about this is that AQI killed the leader of the Awakening just last month; the fact that Bin Laden would follow that with a gesture of conciliation, however half-assed, means either that this recording was made before the assassination happened or that the assassination didn’t quite have the back-breaking, morale-crushing impact he had hoped for. Keep an eye out for details that might resolve that ambiguity.

It’s not often that you get a hopeful word out of Bush’s critics but check this out:

“It’s always good news when they are divided,” said Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism adviser, now an ABC News consultant. “It’s reflective that U.S. tactics are having some success.”

Exit question: Given Bin Laden’s evident concern over developments in Iraq, what exactly is the crux of the left’s claim that Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq are wholly separate organizations and never the twain shall meet? There are financial links, per the LA Times; there are logistical links, per the latest NIE; and there are obviously strategic links per today’s tape (and plenty of others in the past). Is there anything more to it than trying to convince the public that we don’t need to stay in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda because the “real” Al Qaeda isn’t there, no sirree?

Update: They’re really swinging away at each other now, too. Roggio reports a battle over the weekend between AQI and the nationalist insurgent group Islamic Army in Iraq (not to be confused with the Islamic State of Iraq mentioned above) in which 60 were killed.