Zawahri says US talking to wrong people in Iraq

CAIRO (AP) — The deputy leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman Zawahri, told the United States on Wednesday that it was negotiating with the wrong people in Iraq, strongly implying in a video broadcast on Jazeera that Washington should be talking to his group.

“I want to tell the Republicans and the Democrats together… you are trying to negotiate with some parties to secure your withdrawal, but these parities won’t find you an exit [from Iraq] and your attempts will yield nothing but failure,” Zawahri said on the tape, sections of which were aired in successive news bulletins.

“It seems that you will go through a painful journey of failed negotiations until you will be forced to return to negotiate with the real powers,” he said, without identifying these powers.

The video — which bore the logo of Al Qaeda’s media production house, Sahab — was the 15th time this year that Zawahri has sent out a statement. In Wednesday’s tape, he appeared exactly as in previous videos that have been authenticated by CIA analysts. He wore a black turban and white robe and pointed his finger at the camera for emphasis. As usual, he had a rifle behind his right shoulder that was leaning against a plain brown backdrop.

Zawahri appeared to be trying to mobilise support against a range of Middle Eastern players — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his Hamas opponents, Iran and its Shiite allies in Iraq and elsewhere.

He attacked the proposal of Abbas to hold early elections to resolve the contest between Fateh and Hamas, which has degenerated to daily gunbattles in the streets of Gaza.

In the clips broadcast by Jazeera, Zawahri did not say how the two parties should settle their dispute, but he scoffed at elections, saying: “Any way other than holy war, will lead us only to loss and defeat.” He did not say whom the Palestinians should fight, but previously he has always recommended “holy war” against Israel and the West.

He described Abbas as “America’s man in Palestine,” and warned that if Palestinians accepted him as their president, it would be “the end of holy war”. In what appeared to be a reference to Abbas and his Fateh Party, Zawahri said: “Those who are trying to liberate the Islamic territories through elections based on secular constitutions, or on decisions to hand over Palestine to the Jews, will not liberate one grain of sand of Palestine.” He also criticised Hamas — although he did not name it — which has condemned the proposal for early elections. He accused Hamas of making a number of concessions that would ultimately lead to “the recognition of Israel”. He said these concessions began with Hamas signing “the truce” with Israel last year, then the group took part in the January elections “based on a secular constitution”, and recognised Abbas as the head of the Palestinian authority.

Zawahri rebuked Hamas particularly for not pushing for an Islamic constitution before it contested the elections. “Aren’t they an Islamist movement? Aren’t they campaigning for the word of God to be supreme?” he said, adding the party should have insisted on the drafting of “an Islamic constitution for Palestine”. In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum brushed off Zawahri’s criticism and defended the party’s electoral policy.

“Our Palestinian institutions are in need of reform, and to fix them we need to participate in the parliament and other institutions,” Barhoum said.

“We are not responding to Zawahri so much as we are affirming who we are as a movement,” Barhoum added.

Zawahri’s comments were expected to have little influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas has distanced itself from Al Qaeda, saying its struggle is against Israel, not the West at large.

“I don’t think it would have any impact,” said analyst Diaa Rashwan of the tape.

Rashwan, an expert on Islamist groups at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said Hamas is a strong critic of Al Qaeda, although both groups call for Israel’s destruction.

Abbas has accused Al Qaeda of infiltrating the Palestinian territories, but Palestinian security officials say there is no hard evidence of that. They accuse local groups of fabricating links to Al Qaeda as a diversion.

Zawahri criticised Iran and Shiites abroad who supported the US-backed governments in Iraq and Afghanistan while they also backed the anti-Israeli forces in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

“How come the rush to deal with the two governments appointed by the occupier in Iraq and Afghanistan — support them, celebrate them, defend them, challenge their oppositions — while cooperation with the Zionist enemy in Lebanon and Palestine is labelled a betrayal?” he said.

Jazeera staff declined to comment on how and when they obtained the tape.

The broadcast came two days after a posting on a website announced that a message from Zawahri was coming. 

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