The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq urged Sunnis to confront Shiites and ignore calls for reconciliation in a new audiotape posted on the Web on Friday, saying Shiite militias are killing and raping the Sunni Arab minority.
The tape was a four-hour sermon by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi against Shiites, denouncing their top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as an "atheist" and saying the community had collaborated with invaders throughout Iraq's history.
"Oh Sunni people, wake up, pay attention and prepare to confront the poisons of the Shiite snakes who are afflicting you with all agonies since the invasion of Iraq until our day. Forget about those advocating the end of sectarianism and calling for national unity," al-Zarqawi said.
The CIA confirmed on Friday that the tape was authentical. The spokesman, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said the confirmation followed technical analysis of the tape.
It was the first message from al-Zarqawi since April 29, when he appeared in a videotape saying that any government formed in Iraq would be merely a "stooge" of the Americans. That video was the first time al Qaeda in Iraq had released images showing al-Zarqawi's face.
In other recent developments:
Wednesday, reacting to this week's ramp-up in violence, Iraq's new prime minister declared a state of emergency in the city of Basra, vowing to crack down with an "iron fist" on rival gangs battling each other for power.
Violence has been escalating in Shiite-dominated Basra, with a wave of kidnappings and the slayings of nearly 140 people — mostly Sunnis but also Shiites and police — in May alone. The tension has been brewing largely due to the growing influence of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, and the armed Badr organization, both Shiite groups.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, declared the monthlong state of emergency during a visit to the oil-rich region, said Syed Muhammad al-Haidari, a top Shiite official traveling with him. Al-Maliki gave a strong denunciation of the violence that Sunni religious leaders have blamed on Shiite death squads.
"We shall use an iron fist against the leaders of the gangs or those who threaten security," he said earlier in a speech, apparently referring to the militias as well as rival tribal groups. "And we shall ask all security departments to draw up an effective and quick plan to achieve security.
"The size of the security power in this province as far as I know should be sufficient to maintain full control of the security situation, but it seems that these forces are useless with the deteriorating of the security situation in this town," he told about 700 tribal sheiks, religious leaders, officials, army officers and other residents.
It is the only state of emergency in effect, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Major-General Ahmed Al-Khafaji said from Basra. Other cities, including Baghdad and Ramadi, have curfews.