Washington Any Iraqi who votes in the Jan. 30 election will become "a nonbeliever," according to an audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden and broadcast Monday by al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based cable network.
In calling on Iraqis to boycott the election, the speaker praised Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as an "amir," or prince, of the al-Qaida organization in Iraq, who is leading the fight against "the Americans and (Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad) Allawi's renegade government."
"The groups affiliated with him are good," the speaker said. "We were pleased with their daring operations." Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, has asserted responsibility for many of the suicide bombings and beheadings in Iraq over the past year and in October publicly pledged his fealty to bin Laden.
U.S. intelligence officials had "moderate confidence" that the voice on the two-minute, 12-second tape was bin Laden's, an official said Monday.
The speaker appears to be responding to al-Zarqawi's October commitment of allegiance. "We in the al-Qaida organization warmly welcome their union with us," the speaker says, according to a U.S. government translation of the new tape. "This is a great step toward rendering successful the efforts of the mujaheddin to establish the state of right and annihilate the state of injustice."
The tape appears to continue public relations operations being carried on through the media by bin Laden and al-Zarqawi over the past six months. This one was pegged to the Iraq election next month, which is to select a national assembly that will, in turn, draw up a constitution and pick new government officials.
Bin Laden's previous tape was a much longer audio recording in which he discussed his opposition to U.S. policy in Saudi Arabia. It also marked a turn in bin Laden's call from taking arms to participating in causes. Before that, bin Laden appeared in a videotape released just before the U.S. presidential election.