BAGHDAD (Reuters) â€” Al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Mussab Zarqawi said in a rare video on Tuesday his mujahedeen were fighting on in the three-year-old war against the “crusader enemy” and America was behind efforts to form a new government.
“Your mujahedeen sons were able to confront the most ferocious of crusader campaigns on a Muslim state,” a black-clad Zarqawi said in the video posted on the Internet. “They have stood in the face of this onslaught for three years.” Zarqawi, who wore a green vest and had an assault rifle beside him, issued previous messages via audio recordings, and a statement from the Al Qaeda affiliated Mujahedeen Council accompanying the tape said it was his first video.
The message from Zarqawi, who has kept a low profile for months and has been written off by some Iraqi leaders, appeared two days after an audiotape from Osama Ben Laden and one day after bombs in the Egyptian Sinai resort of Dahab killed at least 18 people. Some say Zarqawi is a spent force, but Western intelligence sources say he has simply shifted tactics from attacking US-led forces to targeting Iraqi troops.
Prime Minister-designate Jawad Maliki is forming a government of national unity to combat the insurgency and the mounting sectarian violence that threatens to drag the fledgling democracy into civil war.
Talks on new government
He has less than four weeks to present a Cabinet list to parliament for approval, but has said he will deliver it early.
“If God is willing, I am setting myself a timetable of 15 days to finish forming the Cabinet and deliver it to the parliament,” he told Iraqiya television late on Monday.
In remarks aired on Iraqiya on Tuesday, he said he had begun talks with other parties on a coalition administration.
Maliki’s appointment by President Jalal Talabani last Saturday ended a four-month deadlock and has raised hopes a rainbow coalition embracing the Shiite Muslim majority along with Sunni Arabs and Kurds can bring peace and stability.
US President George W. Bush, whose opinion poll ratings have slumped to the lowest of his presidency amid US public disenchantment with the war, has welcomed Maliki’s appointment as a historic moment for Iraq.
US forces are engaged in heroic efforts to help Iraq succeed, he said in Washington. “We’re on our way to victory.” There are 130,000 US troops in Iraq.
“We’ve got more work to do. But the people â€” our troops need to know and those working in the field need to know â€” that there is a bipartisan desire for us to be successful in this very important theatre in the war on terror.” Washington has said a government of national unity will strengthen Iraq and improve its ability to maintain its own security, paving the way for some US troops to go home.
But US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who led Washington’s very public effort to push politicians into agreement, warned Americans to prepare for a long engagement in Iraq and the Middle East.
“We must perhaps reluctantly accept that we have to help this region become a normal region, the way we helped Europe and Asia in another era,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “Now it’s this area from Pakistan to Morocco that we should focus on.
Baghdad has been hit by a string of bombings this week, the latest on Tuesday in a minibus near a crowded market, killing two people. Gunmen also killed a senior judge in the capital.
Sectarian violence has soared since the February bombing of a major Shiite shrine.