BAGHDAD - The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq because its economy is collapsing and it needed to save money, an al Qaeda front group said in a message posted on its website Wednesday, its first online comment since the U.S. completed its pullout last month after nine years of war.
Al Qaeda was one of the main U.S. enemies in Iraq. It was behind some of the deadliest attacks on U.S. soldiers, Iraqi security forces and American-backed government institutions. Since the U.S. pullout, al Qaeda and other Sunni militants have stepped up attacks on Shiites, killing more than 170 people since the beginning of the year and raising concern that the surge in violence and an escalating political crisis might deteriorate into a civil war.
In an audio message, a spokesman for al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq who identified himself as Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said "America has been defeated in Iraq."
"They pulled out because its economic and human losses were unbearable," al-Adnani said. "America's bankruptcy and collapse is imminent. This is the real reason behind the withdrawal." .
Al-Adnani called on former Sunni fighters who switched sides and fought al Qaeda to return, promising to forgive "whatever their crime was."
Despite the bombast, the appeal was a sign of the group's problems. In July, al Qaeda in Iraq made an online appeal for new fundraising ideas, saying they were in dire need of money to help thousands of widows and children of slain fighters.
At the height of Iraq's insurgency, tens of thousands of Sunni fighters, most of them members or sympathizers of al Qaeda, switched sides and joined U.S. and government forces. Their support created a crucial turning point in the war against al Qaeda in 2007.
Since then, many members of the pro-government Sunni militias known as the Awakening Councils say they haven't been given jobs fitting to their contribution in the war and still feel they're viewed with suspicion by the Shiite-led government.
After the government disarmed thousands of Awakening Council fighters and sent some to jail, al Qaeda launched a series of attacks, killing dozens of them and leading others to return to the insurgent group.
On Tuesday, one of the Council's leaders was killed in a drive-by shooting in western Baghdad, according to police and hospital officials. Mullah Nadhum al-Jubouri fought the Americans with al Qaeda, but then switched sides.
In 2009, al-Jubouri was detained in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid on suspicion of carrying out attacks three years earlier, including downing a U.S. helicopter. He was later released.