An audiotape recently released purports to carry a message from Osama bin Laden encouraging unity among the Sunni tribal groups and al Qaeda fighters in Iraq. The tape calls for unity under the aegis of the "Islamic nation" and chides the various anti-coalition militants in Iraq for their disunity. Bin Laden goes on to admit what he calls mistakes committed by al Qaeda in Iraq, referring to that group's attacks on Sunni tribal leaders. The leaders of Anbar Awakening in al Anbar and Salahuddin Awakening in Samarra were assassinated by al Qaeda and provoked an outcry against the tactics of foreign militants in Iraq. An Islamist website recently posted a message announcing a new coalition of anti-al Qaeda and anti-Occupation militants called the "Political Council of Iraqi Resistance." One gets the impression that al Qaeda suffered a serious blow to its viability as a movement in Iraq with its assaults on co-religious leaders.
Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan made a similar stand against foreign militant activities in his country. The difference in Iraq is that it appears to be more of a grassroots program and therefore the condemnation has more teeth. It is unclear if the assassinations were carried out by rogue elements within al Qaeda in Iraq or whether bin Laden is backpedaling as a result of the popular Sunni outcry against the foreign militants. Regardless, it appears bin Laden, or whomever represents the central authority of al Qaeda is trying to reassert its moral authority as protector of true Islam. That authority which was responsible for creating a popular sympathy within the Muslim world suffered a huge blow as a result of its swift reprisals against fellow Muslims.
Cracks are appearing in the moral armor of the major militant groups in Iraq. Moqtada al-Sadr's disbanded his militia as a result of attacks on fellow Shiites during an important religious festival and al Qaeda's attacks on fellow Sunnis has led to some tribal groups siding with America and her allies. It remains to be seen whether the coalition forces in Iraq can seize what appears to be a shift in initiative.
This is especially important since one of the few stable regions of Iraq, the Kurdish regions to the North, are teetering on violent conflict with Turkey. The current popular movements against foreign militants in Iraq may be nothing more than a marriage of convenience, but they present an opportunity for the US-led coalition to make real strides in the security situation. While the central government in Iraq has been unable to project any meaningful authority, it may be possible to achieve the goal of a stable Iraq despite them.