Red on red explodes: Al Qaeda assassinates Sunni insurgent leader?

I’ve been meaning to link this LA Times story all day but got sidetracked, which was lucky. New facts are coming out. The gist of it is that Zal Khalilzad, the outgoing U.S. ambassador, insists there’s a fracture between AQ and the homegrown Sunni jihadis and that some of the latter might be willing to lay off if the government reaches out. Is there any reason to believe that’s true? Yeah, actually.

Insurgent leaders and Sunni Arab politicians say divisions between insurgent groups and Al Qaeda in Iraq have widened and have led to combat in some areas of the country, a schism that U.S. officials hope to exploit.

The Sunni Arab insurgent leaders said they disagreed with the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq over tactics, including attacks on civilians, as well as over command of the movement…

Insurgent leaders from two of the prominent groups fighting U.S. troops said the divisions between their forces and Al Qaeda were serious. They have led to skirmishes in Al Anbar province, in western Iraq, and have stopped short of combat in Diyala, east of Baghdad, they said in interviews with the Los Angeles Times.

Supposedly, Khalilzad’s talking to at least seven groups, the two most prominent of which are the Iraqi Armed Forces, a Baathist outfit, and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a Baathist/Islamist mix. According to the Times, the latter operates in Diyala province, where much of AQ is supposed to be operating now after having fled Baghdad ahead of the surge. AQ wanted them to join the Islamic State of Iraq, the Sunni umbrella jihadist organization; both groups have allegedly refused.

A few hours after the LAT story, Reuters hit the wire with a report of jihadis having killed the son of Thahir al-Dari, a prominent Sunni sheikh in Anbar who’s joined the tribal “awakening” against AQ. The son’s name: Harith al-Dari. Turns out Harith’s uncle, also named Harith al-Dari, leads the jihadist Muslim Scholars’ Association and opposes the anti-AQ “awakening.” He’s been called “Iraq’s most wanted Sunni leader.”

As for Harith the younger, sounds like yet another case of innocent civilians caught up in AQ’s war on Sunni tribes in Anbar, right? Not exactly:

A military leader of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a major Sunni Arab insurgent group, was killed Tuesday in an ambush west of Baghdad, the group said in an Internet statement.

Harith Dhaher al-Dhari died when gunmen fired rocket propelled grenades on his car in the Abu Ghraib district, according to a district official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals…

The group, in a statement posted on the Internet said: “The 1920 Brigades mourns its martyr, the brave leader Harith Dhaher Khamis al-Dhari who fell today, his honorable blood spilled on the battlefield of his jihad (holy struggle) in Abu Ghraib.”

What we have here, in all likelihood, is the terrorism equivalent of one mafia family whacking the leader of another for cooperating with the police. Which seems shockingly stupid given that we’re planning a major offensive against AQ in Diyala, where the 1920 Brigades operate and where intel from their informants will be very valuable.

And the plot gets thicker still. According to Reuters, Thahir al-Dari is the leader of the al-Zobaie tribe — the same tribe to which Salam al-Zubaie, the Sunni deputy prime minister of Iraq, belongs. Al-Zubaie was himself seriously wounded in an assassination attempt earlier this week which Iraqi sources believe was an inside job perpetrated by a relative. That makes sense now: it sounds like the family is split between pro- and anti-jihadist factions led by Uncle Harith and Thahir, respectively, and Salam happened to pick his security detail from the wrong side.

The jihadis aren’t just fighting each other, of course. Today they laid siege to a U.S. base outside Fallujah with two truck bombs and no fewer than 30 gunmen armed with RPGs. Tally: 15 terrorists killed, eight troops wounded, seven lightly enough to return immediately to duty.

Meanwhile, it sounds like I’m not the only one who’s coming around, grudgingly, towards partition.