BAGHDAD -- The number two leader of Al Qaeda called on Muslims in Iraq to unite against their enemies in a lengthy video released yesterday, at a time when rifts have opened between some Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq and the US military has detained individuals it says are senior members of the organization.
The bearded, white-turbaned Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy to Osama bin Laden, spoke for more than an hour and a half about the need to press on with the fight against the "Zionist Crusader project" and to coalesce around the efforts of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq.
"The first thing which our beloved brothers in Iraq must realize is the critical nature of unity and that it is the gateway to victory and a matter which is not open to delaying or procrastination," said Zawahiri, according to a transcript of the video provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks such dispatches.
In a wide-ranging video in which he primarily attacked the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Zawahiri also defended the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella group formed last year by Al Qaeda in Iraq, against critics who say it is weakened and "lacks the necessary qualifications." He alleged that it is getting closer to the goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, and urged Muslim youth to hurry to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Palestinian areas to fight for their religion.
The speech is perhaps most significant for its admission that Sunni militants have grown divided over the usefulness of the alternative regime that the Islamic State of Iraq claims to offer.
In recent weeks, US soldiers have formed partnerships with Sunni insurgents, in places such as western Baghdad and in Baqubah, north of the capital, to track down Al Qaeda in Iraq members and find their weapons. Members of insurgent groups such as the 1920s Revolution Brigades and the Islamic Army have said they have grown disillusioned with Al Qaeda in Iraq's seemingly indiscriminate killing and its repressive style of Islam.
These fighters, whom the American military wants to fashion into a grass-roots police force in several areas, have in some cases arrested and killed suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq members. The scope of such anti-Al Qaeda sentiment is, however, difficult to determine, as is the long-term agenda of Sunni insurgent groups now cooperating with the Americans.
Zawahiri said "the good news is continuing, and some of the groups prefer that their uniting not be announced right now, while we will soon announce the joining up of others, with Allah's permission."
The release of the Zawahiri video occurred amid continued violence in Iraq. A bomb hidden in a produce truck exploded la st night in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Dsheer, killing at least nine people, including three police officers, and wounding 17 others, police said. The Associated Press reported the death toll at 17, with 28 people injured.
The bomb exploded alongside a photography studio where members of a wedding party were having their picture taken. The couple, along with other members of the wedding party, were injured in the blast, police said.
The US military said the helicopter that went down in Nineva Province on Wednesday, killing one soldier and wounding another, had not been shot down. The initial investigations "indicate the aircraft hit electrical wires," according to a US military statement. The Islamic State of Iraq issued its own version of events, saying in a statement that the helicopter hit the wires after "God blinded" the pilot, the Associated Press reported.