In an audiotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera satellite television, Osama bin Laden endorsed Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq and called for a boycott of the Jan. 30 election.
The new tape, together with one that appeared online earlier, continues a new political slant adopted by the al-Qaeda leader, whose past proclamations have been more a call to arms than a promotion of a cause.
They appear to back up recent suggestions by Middle East experts that bin Laden may be trying to become more of a political leader than a terrorist.
Bin Laden described al-Zarqawi as the "emir," or prince, of al-Qaeda in Iraq and said Muslims there should "listen to him."
Bin Laden also referred to an October statement in which al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, declared allegiance to bin Laden and changed his group's name to al-Qaida in Iraq. He called that "a great step on the path of unifying all the mujahedeen in establishing the state of righteousness and ending the state of injustice."
Al-Jazeera broadcast excerpts of the tape while showing a still photo of the bearded bin Laden, wearing a white robe and head covering.
An Al-Jazeera announcer said bin Laden also called for attacking pipelines, planting mines and killing people who work for the occupation forces.
Al-Zarqawi's group is believed responsible for numerous car bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages in Iraq. The United States has placed a $25 million bounty on both bin Laden and al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi is believed to have escaped from his headquarters in the insurgent-held stronghold of Fallujah during the massive U.S.-led assault in the Iraqi city last month.
Bin Laden said al-Zarqawi and those with him are fighting "for God's sake."
"We have been pleased that they responded to God's and his prophet's order for unity, and we in al-Qaida welcome their unity with us," he said.
Bin Laden also said he was "pleased" with al-Zarqawi's "gallant operations" against the Americans and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's "apostate government."
Iraqis are scheduled to elect a 275-member National Assembly on Jan. 30, and those lawmakers will draft a new constitution. There have been calls to postpone the election because of the ongoing insurgency, but President Bush has insisted the vote be held as scheduled.
Bin Laden condemned the elections.
"In the balance of Islam, this constitution is infidel and therefore everyone who participates in this election will be considered infidels," he said. "Beware of henchmen who speak in the name of Islamic parties and groups who urge people to participate in this blatant apostasy."
Bin Laden apparently was referring to Shiite clerics, particularly Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who have issued edicts saying participating in the election was a "religious duty."
Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout refused to say how or when the station received the audiotape.
This was the second tape made by bin Laden to surface in December. An audiotape posted on an Islamic Web site Dec. 16 had a man identified as bin Laden praising militants who attacked a U.S. consulate in Saudi Arabia earlier this month and calling on militants to stop the flow of oil to the West.
In October, bin Laden, who is believed hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, reached out to his followers with a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera.
In that statement, he for the first time clearly took responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and said America could avoid another strike if it stopped threatening the security of Muslims.