Home-Grown Insurgents Battling Al Qaeda

Madeleine Brand talks to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins about the continuing Iraqi insurgency. According to a story he co-wrote, insurgents from the so-called Islamic Army and from Al Qaeda are clashing among themselves. American and Iraqi officials, Filkins writes, believe they can use the conflict to their advantage.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The US military said today that violence would increase in Iraq as final results from last night's parliamentary elections there are released and progress is made toward forming a government. But according to an article today in The New York Times, some of the insurgents behind the violence are now fighting each other. New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins is one of the writers of that article and he joins us now from Baghdad.

Tell us more about this internal division among the insurgents.

Mr. DEXTER FILKINS (The New York Times): Well, it seems to be an ideological split and also kind of an Iraqi-vs.-the-foreigners split. There's been over the last--I mean, these have been going on for quite some time, particularly over the last couple of months as far as we can gather. There's been a lot of violence between al-Qaeda on one hand, which is perceived as a kind of foreign-led--although I think it's mostly Iraqi, an even Iraqi-led organization--one on hand and Iraqi kind of homegrown insurgent groups on the other. And there's a lot that they don't agree on. The main one is just the degree to which al-Qaeda kills civilians and does the car bombings and suicide bombings and that sort of thing. And that appears to be the genesis of the division.

BRAND: And what about their goals? Do they have the same goals?

Mr. FILKINS: You know, it's hard to generalize, but I think the short answer is no, they don't. As far as anybody can tell, you know, al-Qaeda is--or at least the leadership of al-Qaeda is a pretty radical organization and, you know, would like to use Iraq as a base from which to, you know, expand into the Middle East. And, you know, they have very sort of far-reaching goals about what they want to do. And basically the Iraq insurgents want to throw the Americans out, and that's really the main division. I mean, they agree on that. It's just that al-Qaeda's aims go a lot further than that.

BRAND: Well, I'm wondering if the Americans, the US authorities, are able to exploit this.

Mr. FILKINS: Well, that's a good question. The Americans have begun to talk to--you know, let's call them the Iraqi insurgents, but the more nationalist groups. They've opened negotiations, not with the senior leaders but with some of the field commanders. And I think that they've actually raised the prospect of gaining a cooperation against al-Qaeda. That seems to be a pretty remote prospect, at least as far as we can tell, but that's what they're aiming for.

BRAND: You had an interesting part of your article where you describe some towns in the Sunni triangle as acting like American cities controlled by gangs, that basically these towns are controlled by various factions and people need permission to actually travel through them, and that this state of affairs is not known too widely amongst the Americans.

Mr. FILKINS: Well, that was the impression that we got. It is pretty fascinating. But I--it's not so much that people need permission to travel into the cities, but it was that, you know, various insurgent groups, or al-Qaeda or whoever--they have their own territories and they're known to each other. And if, you know, a guy from, say, the Islamic Army wants to go into al-Qaeda's territory then he's going probably going to have a fight on his hands. And, yeah, I mean, the impression you got was that the Americans are kind of patrolling through all of this, you know, in more or less complete ignorance of what's going on around them.

BRAND: Dexter Filkins is a correspondent with The New York Times. With Sabrina Tavernise, he wrote an article in today's paper about divisions between al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

Dexter Filkins, thank you for joining us.

Mr. FILKINS: Thank you.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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