zarqawi 298 ap.
(photo credit: (AP / via IntelCenter))
A major Iraqi insurgent figure says the US killing of the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was a "great loss," but one that will strengthen the militants' determination, according to an audio tape broadcast by Al-Jazeera on Friday.
The pan-Arab satellite channel said the tape bears the voice of Abu Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, the head of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, which groups five Iraqi insurgent organizations including al-Qaida in Iraq.
The tape is an attempt to rally support for the insurgents after last week's killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the notorious leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. But significantly the speaker does not mention the man that al-Qaida in Iraq has chosen to replace al-Zarqawi, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer.
The conspicuous absence of any pledge of allegiance to al-Mujaher suggests al-Baghdadi does not support him.
"This is a message to the enemies of God, the crusaders, the rejectionists and the renegades," the voice says, referring respectively the US-led forces, the Shiites, and the Sunnis in the Iraqi government.
"The martyrdom of the leader will not change the arena of confrontation. Rather, it will become fiercer and stronger," the speaker says, referring to the death of al-Zarqawi, who was killed when fighter-bombers blasted the house north of Baghdad where he was meeting his advisers on June 7.
"This leader (al-Zarqawi) has laid the foundations and his great loss will not lead to weakness. He will remain a symbol for all the mujahideen, who will take strength from his steadfastness," the speaker says.
Al-Jazeera identified the speaker as al-Baghdadi, but this could not be independently verified immediately.
Al-Baghdadi is believed to be a former officer in Saddam's army, or its elite Republican Guard, who has worked closely with al-Zarqawi since the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator in April 2003.
Some terror experts mentioned al-Baghdadi as the possible successor of al-Zarqawi, but the US military believe al-Qaida in Iraq is now led by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian-born terrorist who trained with al-Zarqawi in Afghanistan.
There is considerable debate over the identity of the new leader, whose official alias is Abu Hamza al-Muhajer. While the US military says al-Muhajer is al-Masri, others are less certain and one terror expert thinks al-Masri does not exist.
Mustafa Alani, a terror specialist at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, has said the new leader will ultimately be appointed by Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahri, the Nos. 1 and 2 in al-Qaida overall, who are believed to be hiding in the border mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The upbeat tone of al-Baghdadi's remarks contrasted sharply with what the Iraqi government and US military have been saying about their counter-insurgency successes this week.
American and Iraqi forces have killed 104 insurgents and discovered 28 significant arms caches since al-Zarqawi was killed, the US military said.
Iraq's National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said the documents and information obtained in these raids have brought matters to "the beginning of the end of al-Qaida in Iraq."