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Al Qaeda Claims 12,000 Iraq Fighters

Al Qaeda in Iraq taunted President Bush on Friday to keep American troops in the country because the terrorist organization had not shed "enough of your blood," bragging that it now has 12,000 fighters in the war-torn country.

The terror group also welcomed the U.S. Republican electoral defeat that led to the departure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and vowed to continue its fight until the White House is blown up.

"The al Qaeda army has 12,000 fighters in Iraq, and they have vowed to die for God's sake," a man who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir said in an audio tape released Friday. He also claimed to have another 10,000 unequipped fighters ready to go into battle.

In the tape, al-Muhajir praised the outcome of Tuesday's elections in which Democrats swept to power in the House and the Senate, in large part due to U.S. voter dissatisfaction over the handling of the war in Iraq.

"The American people have put their feet on the right path by ... realizing their president's betrayal in supporting Israel," the terror leader said. "So they voted for something reasonable in the last elections." He did not explain his logic.

"The change in leadership will not have a direct impact on what we could or don't do in Iraq," U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Peter Pace said Friday on CBS News' The Early Show.

The authenticity of the 22-minute tape and al-Muhajir's identity could not be verified, but it appeared on a Web site commonly used by Islamic militants.

The CIA said it was analyzing the tape but declined to comment further.

In other developments:

  • Car bombs exploded among shoppers in downtown Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least eight people, police said. At least 20 others were injured when a pair of bombs hidden beneath two cars detonated at 11:45 a.m. at Hafidh al-Qadhi square, Lt. Ali Muhsin of the Rissafa police station, said.
    The area lies at the heart of Rasheed Street, Baghdad's main commercial center.
  • A mortar attack on the U.S. government's representative office in central Iraq reportedly sparked a fire in part of the complex. There was no immediate word on damage or casualties in the attack in Hillah, at least the second on the office in recent weeks. The office oversees government and diplomatic interests in the central Euphrates region, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
  • Slovakian officials say a Slovak and a Polish solider have
    been killed by a roadside bomb. Slovakia's prime minister says his
    country will pull its troops out of Iraq in February.
  • Some National Guard combat brigades could be sent back to Iraq for a second tour of duty, says the guard's top general, Lieutenant General Steven Blum. The Pentagon's plan would force it to depart from a previous decision not to deploy reserves for more than a cumulative 24 months in Iraq. For some units, a second tour would mean they would likely exceed that two-year maximum. The Pentagon also is preparing to release a list of active units, and perhaps reserves, that are scheduled to go to Iraq. A senior defense official says the Pentagon wants to maintain the current level of forces in Iraq — about 152,000 troops — over the next two years.
  • President Bush is giving the nation's highest award to a fallen Marine who shared his birthday with the Marine Corps. The president has awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor to Cpl. Jason Dunham, a native of western New York. During a dedication ceremony for the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., Mr. Bush said Cpl. Dunham "showed the world what it means to be a Marine." President Bush explained how Dunham heroically threw himself on an enemy grenade and saved two others in his squad after a Marine convoy was ambushed in April 2004 near the Syrian border in Iraq.
  • President Bush and his national security team will meet Monday with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group trying to devise a new course for the war in Iraq. Robert Gates, picked by Mr. Bush to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, has been a member of the group. He is resigning and will not take part in Monday's meetings. Lawrence Eagleburger, the secretary of state at the end of President George H.W. Bush's term, will replace him.
  • One-third of the way into November, the number of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq now stands at 26 for the month. The military today announced the deaths of three soldiers and two Marines. Two of the soldiers died when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad. Another was killed when a patrol was hit by a bomb buried in the road in a town about 140 miles northwest of the capital. One Marine died from wounds suffered in fighting in Anbar province, and the other Marine died from what are described as "non-hostile causes" during operations in Anbar.
  • In all, 30,000 new recruits come into the Marine Corps each year — and almost all will end up in Iraq. The recruits undergo 13 weeks of intense physical and mental training to teach them honor and values. But, as the marines now under investigation for possible war crimes exemplify, the training might not be enough to prepare recruits for the mental and ethical challenges they will encounter in the field. David Martin reports.
  • Iraq's health minister estimates 150,000 Iraqis have died in the war, reports McCormick. That's three times higher than previous estimates, but nowhere near the figure of 650,000 published recently in the British medical journal Lancet. Still, there has been no official count, and there may never be accurate numbers.
  • A suicide bomber in an explosives-rigged car killed six Iraqi soldiers he'd lured from behind a checkpoint on Friday, while the Iraqi Army said it captured the Egyptian leader of an al Qaeda cell in restive Anbar Province.
  • Iraq state television said the speaker of the parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, was visiting neighboring Iran for an international conference

    Al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, took over as leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, one of the country's deadliest terror groups, after his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a U.S. air strike north of Baghdad in June.

    The terrorist chieftain called Bush "the most stupid president" in U.S. history and declared that was allowing al Qaeda to move to victory more quickly than expected.

  • But he challenged Mr. Bush not to leave Iraq, saying: "We haven't had enough of your blood yet."

    "We call on the lame duck (President Bush) not to hurry his escape the way the defense secretary did," al-Muhajir said in reference to Rumsfeld's resignation as Pentagon chief on Wednesday.

    "Remain steadfast on the battlefield, you coward," al-Muhajir said to the American leader.

    The al Qaeda commander also promised that his militants would not give up their fight until they had blown up the White House.

    "We will not rest from our Jihad (holy war) until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have blown up the filthiest house — which is called the White House," al-Muhajir said.

    His reference to the "olive trees of Rumieh" was not clear, but Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian terrorism specialist, said he appeared to be referring to ancient biblical Palestine.

    Ben Venzke, head of the Virginia-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications, said al Qaeda in Iraq was swift to respond to events in the United States.

    "It shows a remarkable degree of speed in being responsive," he said.

    Rashwan said Rumsfeld's resignation and the Democrats winning both houses of Congress will have a "moral impact" on U.S. troops in Iraq.

    "Al-Muhajir realizes this, and that's why he asked Bush to keep his forces and fight," Rashwan said.

    But the Egyptian terrorism expert also said al-Muhajir's claim to have 12,000 fighters was "propaganda."

    "This number is very big, and it is an extreme exaggeration, because U.S. reports state that most of al Qaeda fighters are non-Iraqis," he said. "If there are all those non-Iraqi fighters, where would they be hiding?"

    In the audio tape, al-Muhajir also called on Sunni Muslims to pledge their allegiance to a new state that militants have said they created in Iraq, stating its ruler was Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

    "I vow allegiance to you," he said, addressing al-Baghdadi as the "ruler of believers" and placing al Qaeda in Iraq fighters under his command.

    In October, an Iraqi militant umbrella group that includes al Qaeda in Iraq announced that it had established an Iraqi Islamic State, consisting of several Sunni-dominated provinces including Baghdad.

    Iraqi authorities have dismissed their claim.

    Venzke said al-Muhajir's claim of allegiance to al-Baghdadi shows that there is increased backing among Sunni insurgents for the creation of an Islamic state in Iraq.

    "It shows a growing sort of support and organizational presence around this idea," he said.

    Iraqi security officials said last month they were close to capturing or killing al-Muhajir and released a captured video showing the terror chief teaching followers how to build a car bomb. The video was the first to show the militant leader's face, though U.S. and Iraqi military officials have shown photos of him.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq last released an audio tape purportedly from al-Muhajir in late September, where he called for nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war and urged insurgents to kidnap Westerners.