Bin Laden's Deputy Exhorts Muslims in Iraq to Coalesce

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 6, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 5 -- The No. 2 leader of al-Qaeda, in a lengthy video released Thursday, called on Muslims in Iraq to unite against their enemies, at a time when rifts have opened between some Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq and the U.S. military has detained individuals it says are senior members of the organization.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy to Osama bin Laden, spoke for more than an hour and a half about the need to press on with the fight against the "Zionist crusader project" and to coalesce around the efforts of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"The first thing which our beloved brothers in Iraq must realize is the critical nature of unity, and that it is the gateway to victory and a matter which is not open to delaying or procrastination," Zawahiri said, according to a transcript of the video provided by the SITE Institute, which tracks such dispatches.

In a wide-ranging video in which he primarily attacked the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Zawahiri also defended the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella group that he said was formed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, against critics who say it has been weakened and "lacks the necessary qualifications." He alleged that the group is getting closer to the goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and urged Muslim youth to hurry to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Palestinian territories to fight for their religion.

The speech is perhaps most significant for its admission that Sunni militants have grown divided over the usefulness of the alternative regime that the Islamic State of Iraq claims to offer.

In recent weeks, U.S. soldiers have formed partnerships with Sunni insurgents, in places such as western Baghdad and in Baqubah north of the capital, to track down al-Qaeda in Iraq members and find their weapons. Members of insurgent groups such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Islamic Army have said they have grown disillusioned with al-Qaeda in Iraq's seemingly indiscriminate killing and its repressive style of Islam.

These fighters, whom the U.S. military wants to fashion into a grass-roots police force in several areas, have in some cases arrested and killed suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq members. The scope of such sentiment against al-Qaeda is, however, difficult to determine, as is the long-term agenda of Sunni insurgent groups now cooperating with the Americans.

Zawahiri said that "the good news is continuing, and some of the groups prefer that their uniting not be announced right now, while we will soon announce the joining up of others, with Allah's permission."

The release of the Zawahiri video came at a time of continued violence in Iraq. A bomb hidden in a produce truck exploded Thursday evening in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Dsheer, killing at least nine people, including three policemen, and wounding 17 others, police said. The Associated Press reported the death toll at 17, with 28 people injured.

The bomb exploded alongside a photography studio where members of a wedding party were posing for pictures. The couple, along with others in the wedding party, were injured in the blast, police said. The suicide explosion coincided with a series of mortar rounds that landed in the same area.

The U.S. military said the helicopter that went down in Nineveh province Wednesday, killing one soldier and wounding another, had not been shot down. Initial reports "indicate the aircraft hit electrical wires," according to a U.S. military statement. The Islamic State of Iraq issued its own version of events, saying in a statement that the helicopter hit the wires after "God blinded" the pilot, the AP reported.

The military also announced that two soldiers died and two were wounded Thursday when a powerful bomb exploded near their patrol in southern Baghdad. The bomb, known as an explosively formed projectile, fires a slug of metal that can penetrate the armor on American military vehicles. Such explosives are associated with Shiite militias in Iraq, and the U.S. military says they are manufactured in Iran.

Also Thursday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, that he hoped Iraqi security forces would assume security control in the southern city of Basra within the next three months, according to a statement from Maliki's office. Maliki spoke with Brown over the telephone and "expressed his hope that the British role will be limited to provide support while the Iraqi forces should take over the great load of the security efforts," the statement said.

Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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