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In a videotape aired Friday, al-Qaida's No. 2 leader praised Islam's victory in forcing a reduction of US troops in Iraq.
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, US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hinted that the US 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.
US 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.
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