Qaeda Tape: Drawdown Is Win For Islam

In a videotape aired Friday, al Qaeda's No. 2 leader praised Islam's victory in forcing a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq. Meanwhile, the U.S. military said that six more American troops died in the recent surge of violence in Iraq, bringing to 11 the number of U.S. troops slain on the same day.

Ayman al-Zawahri, wearing a white turban and gray robe and seated next to an automatic rifle, waved his finger for emphasis as he spoke in the two-minute excerpt aired by Al-Jazeera satellite network.

"You remember I told you more than a year ago that the American withdrawal from Iraq is only a matter of time, and here they are now ... negotiating with the mujahedeen," al-Zawahri said. "Bush was forced at the end of last year to announce that he will pull out his forces from Iraq, but he was giving excuses for his withdrawal that the Iraqi forces have reached a good level."

On Dec. 22, 2005, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hinted that the U.S. military would soon begin reducing its troop strength in Iraq below 138,000, suggesting a preliminary decision had been made to cancel the scheduled deployment of two Army brigades.

That would gradually decrease the number of troops in Iraq by 6,000 to 7,000, said a Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement was not yet final. The official said that would bring the troop level in the country to a little above 130,000 sometime next spring.

In other developments:

  • About 5,000 Shiites rallied in Baghdad to protest the bloodshed and denounce what they said was American backing of some Sunni politicians who have supported or at least failed to condemn insurgent groups in order to bring them into a broad-based government. Shiites in the Sadr City slum chanted slogans against U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and moderate Sunni Arab leaders such as Adnan al-Dulaimi. Most of their ire was directed at hard-liners such as Saleh al-Mutlaq, head of the Sunni Arab National Dialogue Front, who complained of widespread fraud in the Dec. 15 elections.
  • In new violence Friday, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in Baghdad, killing one officer, Col. Noori Ashur said.
  • By highlighting recent economic advances in a speech Friday, President Bush took an opportunity to turn attention away from the conflict in Iraq. "By the way, we're going to win the war," he added as an aside.
  • In the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, 70 miles west of the capital, Marine Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool said police recruits got back in line to continue the screening process after a suicide bomber attacked. They were apparently desperate for a relatively well-paying job in the impoverished area.
  • Elsewhere, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held talks in southern Iraq with local officials on forming a broad-based coalition government. Straw's unannounced visit was an "opportune time to get an up-to-date report on what's happening with the political discussions and the security situation" in the four provinces under British responsibility, according to the spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with Foreign Ministry protocol.
  • The three main attacks Thursday all took place within an hour. The death toll was the largest single-day total since Sept. 14, when 162 died. The U.S. Embassy said it was appalled by the attacks. "This terror aims simply to kill innocent Iraqis and provoke further conflict between them," the embassy said.
  • A U.S. Marine and soldier died in Thursday's attack by a suicide bomber who infiltrated a line of police recruits in Ramadi, killing at least 58 and wounding dozens. Two soldiers were also killed in the Baghdad area when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb, the military said Friday.

    In addition, two U.S. Marines were killed by separate small arms attacks while conducting combat operations in Fallujah, the military said.

    The military had previously announced the deaths of five soldiers hit by a roadside bomb south of Karbala. The attack came minutes before a second suicide bomber struck Shiite pilgrims in that city, killing 63.

    It was the fourth-deadliest day in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with at least 136 total deaths, including the U.S. troops.

    U.S. President George W. Bush has not offered concrete details about bringing troops home but said on Wednesday that "possible adjustments" would be discussed with Iraqi leaders if progress continued on security and political efforts.

    Al-Zawahri said the American forces "with their planes, missiles, tanks and fleets are mourning and bleeding, seeking for a getaway from Iraq."

    "Regarding your withdrawal timetable ... you have to admit, Bush, that you have been defeated in Iraq and are being defeated in Afghanistan and will be defeated in Palestine," he said, speaking calmly but forcefully.

    The Al-Jazeera broadcaster said the videotape was dated in December but gave no specific date.

    The most recent videotape from al-Zawahri, aired by Al-Jazeera last October, called on Muslims to aid victims of a massive earthquake in Pakistan.

    "If I was comforting the Islam nation for its crisis of Pakistan's earthquake, I today congratulate it and bless the Islamic victory in Iraq," al-Zawahri said in Friday's tape.

    Also Friday, Iraq's main Shiite religious party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, issued a veiled threat to Sunnis supporting the insurgency that its patience was wearing thin.

    But in a chord struck by several politicians, the party also condemned policies it said were imposed by the U.S.-led coalition that were hampering Iraqi security forces' counterterrorism work. The Americans have increased their oversight of Shiite-dominated forces following widespread charges of abuse, especially of Sunni detainees.

    "Not allowing these two ministries to do their job means exposing helpless Iraqis to ruthless terrorists," SCIRI said. "They should know that the patience of our people will not last for a long time with these sectarian dirty crimes."