Qaeda-backed group offers U.S. safe Iraq exit: Web

By Firouz Sedarat
Friday, December 22, 2006; 4:16 PM

DUBAI (Reuters) - The leader of an al Qaeda-backed group offered to refrain from attacking U.S. forces if they withdrew from Iraq within a month and left their heavy weapons behind, according to an audio tape posted on the Internet on Friday.

"We call on (President George W.) Bush not to waste this historic opportunity which insures you a safe withdrawal," said the speaker, identified as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, head of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq, which was announced in October by al Qaeda and groups linked to it.

The authenticity of the tape could not be verified, but it was posted on two main Web sites used by al Qaeda and other insurgent groups in Iraq.

"We are awaiting your response within two weeks of this announcement," said the speaker in the tape, which was dated December 22. He said insurgent groups would refrain from attacking withdrawing U.S. forces if they left within a month.

Baghdadi was a little-known militant before Sunni militant groups including al Qaeda announced what they described as an Islamic state in Iraq. Baghdadi was named as the head of the state and in November, the leader of Iraq's al Qaeda wing -- Abu Hamza al-Muhajir -- vowed allegiance to him.

The recording was posted on the Internet hours after Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended a visit to Iraq aimed at finding a new strategy to curb violence and allow U.S. troops to withdraw.

"You (Bush) wasted the opportunity of the truce offered to you by the sheikh of the mujahideen, Osama bin Laden, may God protect him," the speaker on the tape said.

In January, bin Laden warned in an audio tape that al Qaeda was preparing new attacks inside the United States, but said the group was open to a conditional truce with the Americans. Washington said it did not negotiate with terrorists.

"In these holy days (before the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage) we announce a new campaign ... to step up the fight against the crusaders," the speaker said.

"The withdrawal is to be carried out with personnel carriers and passenger planes, with troops only carrying (light) arms ... and not heavy weapons," he added.

The speaker rejected any talks through the mediation of Saudi Arabia, denouncing Saudi leaders as "tyrants."

Saudi Arabia said this week it would not take sides in Iraqi sectarian violence, denying reports the U.S.-allied kingdom may back Sunni Muslims in their fight against Shi'ites if the United States withdraws from Iraq.

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