Saddam Hussein loyalists who violently opposed January elections have made an about-face as Thursday’s polls near, urging fellow Sunni Arabs to vote and warning al Qaeda militants not to attack.

In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Graffiti calling for holy war is now hard to find. . . .

But Saddam loyalists have turned against Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant whose fighters travel to Iraq from across the Arab world to blow themselves up in a bid to spark sectarian civil war.

“Zarqawi is an American, Israeli and Iranian agent who is trying to keep our country unstable so that the Sunnis will keep facing occupation,” said a Baathist insurgent leader who would give his name only as Abu Abdullah.

Well, dang. They’ve finally figured that out. Next they’ll catch on that Al Jazeera is a CIA front . . . .

But this can’t be making Zawahiri very happy:

Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri said the global Islamic community had “no hope for victory” until all Muslims signed on to the al-Qaida-led jihad.

Oops. Sorry, pal.

Much more on what’s going on among the various factions in Iraq can be found in this piece from StrategyPage, which has been noting this split for a while.

UPDATE: More bad news for Zawahiri: “Moderate Muslim clerics in about half a million mosques across Bangladesh on Friday preached that suicide bombers are the enemy of Islam.” Heh. Indonesia isn’t looking so good for him either: “Volunteers from Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation will guard churches across the world’s most populous Muslim nation on Christmas amid fears of terrorist attacks on those places, the group said on Friday.”

Did I say “heh?” Well, I’ll say it again. Heh.