Zarqawi rallies Muslims as US strikes falluja
"Oh people, the war has begun and the call for jihad has been made," said the Zarqawi statement posted on an Arabic internet Web site often used by Islamists.
"Despite all the agonies that we are suffering, by God, the enemies will only see things that will harm them," he said. "Let us resist them with all our might and let us spend all that is precious in fighting them. Be patient, it is only a matter of days before victory will come with the help of God."
Zarqawi made his appeal as Iraqi and U.S. troops began a huge operation to wrestle back Falluja from Muslim insurgents -- though his statement did not mention the city by name.
Another militant group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, posted a statement on its Web site calling for intensified attacks on U.S.-led forces and for more hostage takings.
"In such circumstances the leadership of the Islamic Army in Iraq orders all its forces to escalate operations to the highest level and urges the mujahideen everywhere to repel the infidel," said the statement which also did not mention Falluja by name.
The U.S. military says 1,000 to 6,000 fighters -- Saddam Hussein supporters and foreign Islamic militants led by Zarqawi -- are holed up in the town's alleyways and on rooftops.
"Why don't you seize the opportunity so that you will be spared the pain of the grave? You should know that martyrs are considered alive in heaven," Zarqawi's statement said.
It accused Muslim scholars of leaving militants "to face the most powerful force on earth" and surrendering land to "Jews and crusaders and their tails -- the infidel rulers."
Zarqawi's Al Qaeda Organization of Holy War in Iraq has claimed responsibility for hostage beheadings and some of Iraq's bloodiest suicide attacks.