(photo credit: Channel 2)
The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq urged Sunnis to confront Shi'ites and ignore calls for reconciliation in a new audiotape posted on the Web on Friday, saying Shi'ite militias are killing and raping the Sunni Arab minority.
The tape was a four-hour sermon by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi against Shi'ites, denouncing their top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as an "atheist" and saying the community had collaborated with invaders throughout Iraq's history.
The authenticity of the audiotape could not be independently confirmed. It was posted on a Web forum often used by his al-Qaida in Iraq for messages and the voice resembled that of al-Zaraqawi's on other confirmed tapes from him.
It was the first message from al-Zarqawi since April 29, when he appeared in a video tape saying that any government formed in Iraq would be merely a "stooge" of the Americans. That video was the first time al-Qaida in Iraq had released images showing al-Zarqawi's face.
Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, has claimed responsibility for some of the most high-profile suicide bombings in Iraq and also for other attacks in Jordan, including a triple hotel bombing in Amman in November that killed 63 people.
In the video, al-Zarqawi denounced militias linked to Shi'ite political parties in the new government that many accuse of running death squads killing Sunnis in a wave of sectarian violence the past months.
"The Badr Brigades and Mahdi Army are storming the houses of Sunnis under the pretext of searching for the mujahedeen (insurgents) and even if they didn't find any, they kill men and arrest women, put them in prison and rape them and steal everything from the houses of the Sunnis."
US and Iraqi officials have frequently accused al-Zarqawi of seeking to spark a civil war between Sunnis and Shi'ites, and many of his group's suicide bombings have targeted Shi'ite civilians and mosques. Al-Zarqawi follows a radical Salafi version of Islam that vilifies Shiism.
Much of Friday's tape was aimed at rallying Sunnis - who make up the majority of Muslims in the Arab world but are a minority in Iraq - against Shi'ites across the Mideast and Iran, which many Sunni Iraqis deeply mistrust for its influence with the Shi'ite parties that now dominate Iraq's government.
"There is no difference between Shi'ites of Iran and the Shi'ites in the rest of the Arab world either in Iraq, Lebanon. Their beliefs are the same .. their hatred of Sunnis is the same," he said, adding, "The roots of Jews and the Shi'ites are the same."
"Anyone calling for reconciliation between Sunnis and Shi'ites is either a man who knows the truth but is betraying his religion and his nation ... or a man who is ignorant and should be taught," he said.
He said Shi'ite leaders in Iran and Lebanon - including the Hizbullah guerrilla movement - only pretend to confront Israel and the United States. He mocked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "screaming and calling for wiping Israel from the map" but doing nothing.