Purported al-Zarqawi tape raps scholars
An audiotape purportedly made by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi lashed out Wednesday at Muslim scholars for not speaking out against U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying they have "let us down in the darkest circumstances."
It was unclear whether the tape posted on the Internet Wednesday was intended as a direct threat against Iraq's Sunni religious establishment, who have come under attack recently with the slaying this week of two Sunni clerics by gunmen.
"You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy... You have quit supporting the mujahedeen," al-Zarqawi purportedly said on the tape. "Hundreds of thousands of the nation's sons are being slaughtered at the hands of the infidels because of your silence."
On the tape, whose authenticity could not be confirmed, al-Zarqawi addressed his comments to the "ulama" ¡ª senior Muslim religious clerics.
Al-Zarqawi, who leads the terror group known as al-Qaida in Iraq, is believed to have escaped from his headquarters in the insurgent-held stronghold of Fallujah during the massive U.S.-led assault earlier this month.
"You made peace with the tyranny and handed over the countries and the people to the Jews and Crusaders. ... when you resort to silence on their crimes, when you refused to hold the banners of Jihad and Tawhid, and when you prevented youth from heading to the battlefields in order to defend the religion," he said.
"Instead of implementing God's orders, you chose your safety and preferred your money and sons. You left the mujahadeen facing the strongest power in the world," he said. "Are not your hearts shaken by the scenes of your brothers being surrounded and hurt by your enemy?"
This week, two Sunni clerics who were part of an influential Sunni group that openly called for a boycott of Jan. 30 national elections because of the U.S. offensive against Fallujah were assassinated by gunmen.
On Tuesday, Sheik Ghalib Ali al-Zuhairi, was killed as he left a mosque after dawn prayers in the town of Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said.
His assassination occurred a day after another prominent Sunni cleric was killed in the northern city of Mosul ¡ª Sheik Faidh Mohamed Amin al-Faidhi, who was the brother of the association's spokesman. It was unclear whether those two attacks were related.
The audio message appeared as U.S. and Iraqi security forces continued their search for al-Zarqawi after reports that he was in the region north of Baghdad. The U.S. has placed a $25 million bounty on his head.
His group, formerly named Tawhid and Jihad, is believed responsible for dozens of deadly bombings and gruesome beheadings of foreign hostages.
Meanwhile, some 6,000 Iraqi Army troops ¡ª the first batch of quick-reaction forces ¡ª graduated Wednesday from a southern military base, a military spokesman said.
The new graduates are the first group trained as quick-reaction forces, in charge of launching defensive and offensive operations in emergencies, said the spokesman. A delegation of the Iraqi defense ministry and U.S. military officers attended the graduation ceremony at Al-Nuimiyah base is about 100 miles south of Baghdad.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, militants attacked Iraqi National Guard forces, killing one soldier and a civilian in the drive-by shooting, the military said Wednesday.
The attackers struck after sundown Tuesday, firing from their car on Iraqi forces helping a civilian with his vehicle, the military said in a statement.
Another Iraqi guardsman suffered injuries in the incident, the military said. Kirkuk is about 180 miles north of Baghdad.
On Wednesday, Nineveh province's deputy governor said his convoy came under gunfire in northern Mosul, killing one of his bodyguards and injuring two others. An Interior Ministry special forces member in the area was also killed, he said.
Deputy Gov. Khasro Gouran said he was on his way home when his convoy was attacked around 1 p.m. near the local administration building. One bodyguard was killed in the attack. The other two guards injured included Gouran's brother, who also acts as a bodyguard.
He said authorities were investigating the possibility that the convoy was mistakenly fired upon by the special Interior Ministry force in the area.
"There may have been a misunderstanding," Gouran said.
In Mahmoudiya, gunmen ambushed a taxi carrying an Iraqi National Guard soldier to work Wednesday, hospital officials said.
Dr. Dawoud al-Taie at Mahmoudiya Hospital said the shooting happened after dawn as the soldier was headed to his military base near the town about 25 miles south of the Iraqi capital.
Mahmoudiya is in an area known as the "triangle of death," a region where rebels frequently attack U.S. and allied forces.
Some 5,000 U.S., Iraqi and British forces launched a major offensive Tuesday to clear insurgents from that southern belt of towns.
Tuesday's series of raids and house searches was the third large-scale military operation this month aimed at suppressing Iraq's Sunni Muslim insurgency ahead of crucial elections set for Jan. 30. The assault aims to stem an increase of violence in an area that has been notorious for months as a danger zone.