Accusations Fly Day After Lethal Insurgent Attacks
BAGHDAD, Jan. 6 -- Al Qaeda's second-in-command said President Bush had admitted defeat in Iraq by announcing plans to reduce the American troop presence in the country, saying the move would be a victory for Islam.
Ayman Zawahiri's videotaped remarks, broadcast on al-Jazeera television Friday, came after two days of suicide bombings in Iraq killed almost 200 people, 11 of them U.S. soldiers. Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq is widely believed to have been behind the deadliest of the attacks.
"Bush, you must admit that you have been defeated in Iraq and that you are being defeated in Afghanistan and that you will soon be defeated in Palestine," Zawahiri said, according to a translation of his statement by the Washington-based SITE Institute.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian who is al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, warned Americans that "as long as you do not deal with Muslim nations with understanding and respect, you will still go from one disaster to another. And your calamity will not end, unless you leave our lands and stop stealing our resources and stop supporting the bad rulers in our countries."
News services quoted U.S. officials as saying the tape was probably authentic.
Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar province, blamed al Qaeda for what he called a "horrific" suicide bomb attack Thursday on Iraqi police applicants in the western city of Ramadi. While acknowledging he lacked any concrete evidence, he said in a briefing broadcast to reporters at the Pentagon that the attack "has all the markings of al Qaeda," such as the targeting of innocent civilians.
But Johnson disagreed that insurgents were concentrating their efforts on Ramadi, the Anbar capital, saying he had seen no "notable increase" in violence there. "I don't believe Ramadi has become a focal point for the insurgency," he said. "Ramadi is not in flames."
Spared major follow-up attacks Friday, Iraqis were preoccupied with recriminations on a day when it is the duty of Muslim clerics to speak to flocks of the faithful. Sunni and Shiite religious leaders condemned the week's attacks but found different causes for the escalation of violence that followed a relatively calm period after national elections on Dec. 15.
"These are hands that are trying to settle old historical scores by undermining security," Ahmad Khider Abbas, a Sunni cleric, said in his sermon at the Um al-Qurra mosque in Baghdad.
In Najaf, Shiite cleric Sadr Aldin Qubbanchi said the United States "gave the green light for the terrorists" when it "released terrorists from the prisons under the call for human rights."
Sunni and Shiite politicians joined the fray, hurling provocative charges at one another.
Sunni political groups have challenged the results of the parliamentary elections, which delivered a victory to the Shiite religious parties that lead Iraq's outgoing government. Shiites have responded by accusing some Sunni politicians of being in league with the insurgent movement.
"We regret to say that some voices from the Sunni organizations contributed to and justified indirectly such attacks," Hussein Shahristani, a Shiite who is deputy chairman of Iraq's National Assembly, said in an interview. "The fact that they have called on insurgents to use violence to change the results of the elections has raised a very serious question."
"I am not sure who is attacking, but I am sure that this kind of statement, this kind of cheating, will lead to violence," Saleh Mutlak, one of the country's most prominent Sunni Arab politicians, responded in a separate interview.
Thousands of angry Shiites took to the streets of Sadr City, a Baghdad slum, chanting slogans against Mutlak and the U.S. presence in Iraq, the Associated Press reported.
The State Department, meanwhile, issued a statement condemning the attacks. "Acts such as these serve only to deepen the pain and suffering of innocent people," the statement said.
Thursday was one of the bloodiest days for the U.S. military since it invaded the country in 2003. On Friday, military authorities announced the death of six Americans in Thursday's attacks, in addition to five other service members whose deaths in a roadside bombing in Baghdad had been previously reported.
Among those whose deaths were announced Friday, two of the six were killed in the suicide bombing in Ramadi. In addition, military authorities said that two Marines were killed by small-arms fire in Fallujah, and two others were killed when a roadside bomb detonated near their vehicle in Baghdad. Military authorities would not provide additional details until the soldiers' relatives could be notified.
In his Pentagon briefing, the Marines' Johnson predicted that Iraqi forces would take the principal security role in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah by mid-year, and following that in western Anbar along the Euphrates River Valley. "Probably in the next four to six months, you're going to see a number of forces who will be able to take . . . increasing lead" in Fallujah and Ramadi, he said.
Iraqi army forces in Anbar have tripled, he said, from two brigades last April to two divisions comprising nearly 20,000 soldiers. However, he said, the province's police forces, largely disbanded because of corruption and involvement in the insurgency, are being rebuilt.
Also Friday, an Iraqi police patrol found 10 bodies dumped at a site about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad, said Capt. Ahmed Sami, a police officer with the Interior Ministry. Sami said the victims, in civilian clothes, had been blindfolded, handcuffed and shot in the head.
Staff writers Ann Scott Tyson and Robin Wright in Washington and special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.