U.S. intelligence officials said there is a deepening rift between radical foreign fighters and native Iraqi insurgents, The USA Today reported Thursday.
That, in the eyes of the U.S. government, will create an opportunity for American forces to try to persuade local guerrillas to put down weapons and join the political process, Richard Zahner, the top U.S. intelligence officer in Iraq, was quoted as saying.
"Actually you have a wedge, or a split, between the Sunni population and al Qaeda in Iraq," he said. "It poses a significant crossroads for these groups as they look at where they head."
U.S. intelligence officials cited some incidents of the internal fight.
For example, at least six ranking members of al Qaeda in Iraq have been assassinated by Sunni insurgents or tribal gunmen, respectively, since last September, said Zahner.
In the western Iraqi town of Ramadi, armed clashes have erupted between local Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda operatives in recent months. At least one high-ranking al Qaeda member, Abu Khatab, was recently expelled out of the town by insurgents loyal to the local tribe.
Iraq's national security advisor Mouwafak al-Rubaie agreed with the rift talk.
However, the U.S. military finds it is very difficult to assess the significance of such internal fight.
The U.S. military has described the insurgency as a mix of former Saddam Hussein loyalists, foreign militants and disenfranchised Sunni Arabs.
According to the estimates of U.S. officials, Iraq's insurgency probably consists of about 12,000 to 15,000 hard-core Iraqi fighters and supporters, as well as 1,000 militants loyal to al Qaeda in Iraq, in which about 10 percent are foreign.