Sunni sheikhs in Anbar form anti-jihadi political party

It’s not often you get undiluted good news from Iraq. Enjoy it.

A group of Sunni tribal leaders in beleaguered Al Anbar province said Thursday that it intended to form a national party to oppose insurgents such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and reengage with Iraq’s political process.

The announcement came after 200 sheiks said to represent 50 tribes met here and agreed to form a provincial sheiks council and hold the first convention in May of their new party, called Iraq Awakening. Sheiks from three other provinces will attend, organizers said.

The driving force behind the new party, Sheik Abdul-Sattar abu Risha, said in an interview that the tribal leaders would be pushing a slate of candidates in Al Anbar provincial elections later this year, as well as in the next round of national parliamentary balloting, scheduled for 2009.

One purpose of the party, Sattar said, is to promote a better image of American-led forces “to the Iraqis here.” He added that the tribes also would participate in a U.S.-backed effort to reestablish a court system in Ramadi, the provincial capital.

American KIAs in Anbar as a total percentage of American KIAs in country have dropped from 45% between December to February to 12% from February to April. Combat deaths are way up in Baghdad over the same period, though, due no doubt in part to the fact that jihadis are trying to spoil the surge in the capital but surely also because Anbar has become increasingly hostile terrain for them. And not just because of the sheikhs, either:

At least two major insurgent groups are battling al-Qaida in provinces outside Baghdad, American military commanders said Friday, an indication of a deepening rift between Sunni guerrilla groups in Iraq…

The clashes have erupted over the last two to three months, pitting al-Qaida in Iraq against the nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigades in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces north of Baghdad as well as Anbar to the west, U.S. officers said. In Diyala, another hard-line militant Sunni group, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, is also fighting al-Qaida, they said.

“It’s happening daily,” Lt. Col. Keith Gogas said Thursday in an interview at an Army base in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. “Our read on it is that that the more moderate, if you will, Sunni insurgents, are finding that their goals and al-Qaida’s goals are at odds.”

Calling Ansar al-Sunna “moderate,” even in relative terms, is absurd, and it’s more than a little worrisome that three different terrorist groups would have sufficient presences in Diyala as to be rubbing up against each other. But I guess that’s why Petraeus is sending 3,000 troops. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero claimed today at a press briefing that the military has reason to believe Sunni car bombs are being supplied by … Iran. Quote: “Detainees in American custody have indicated that Iranian intelligence operatives have given support to Sunni insurgents. And then we’ve discovered some munitions in Baghdad neighborhoods which are largely Sunni that were manufactured in Iran.” That’s not the first time we’ve heard of Iran watering both sides to fertilize a civil war that will drive the Americans out (and which Iraqi Shiites will inevitably win), but since it explodes the conventional wisdom about the usefulness of dialogue with Iran and our alleged “shared interest” in Iraq’s stability, the left will dismiss it out of hand.

I’ll leave you with a few odds and ends: Eugene Volokh on enemy media’s Harry Reid propaganda bonanza; the L.A. Times on the indelibility of pessimism in Baghdad; and the Chronicle of Higher Education on the conspicuous reluctance of the authors of the infamous Lancet study to share details about how it was conducted. I can understand them wanting to keep the names of the interviewers secret, but why not identify the neighborhoods?