Baghdad, Iraq The reputed leader of al-Qaida in Iraq said the Iraqi army is as great an enemy as the Americans and announced the formation of a new terror command to fight Iraq's biggest Shiite militia, in an audiotape found today on the Internet.
The comments, purportedly from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, appeared aimed at discouraging armed Iraqi groups from entering talks with the Iraqi government. The tape challenged critics who maintain that fighting U.S. troops is legitimate, but who oppose attacks on Iraqi forces.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials have said U.S. representatives have participated in meetings with Sunni insurgents in an effort to help the Iraqi government draw militants into the political process.
"Some say that the resistance is divided into two groups - an honorable resistance that fights the nonbeliever-occupier and a dishonorable resistance that fights Iraqis," the speaker said. "We announce that the Iraqi army is an army of apostates and mercenaries that has allied itself with the Crusaders and came to destroy Islam and fight Muslims. We will fight it."
The speaker tacitly acknowledged pressure to abandon the struggle against the Americans and their Iraqi allies, saying he was "saddened and burdened" by people "advising me not to persist in fighting in Iraq."
He also said the Americans began speaking of negotiations to end the conflict after al-Qaida had "humiliated" U.S. forces on the battlefield.
Rumsfeld has acknowledged that U.S. officials have met with some insurgents in an effort to pull them into the political process, but he has insisted the talks did not involve negotiations with al-Zarqawi and other suspected terrorists.
It was impossible to determine whether the speaker was al-Zarqawi, although the voice sounded like ones on tapes U.S. officials have acknowledged were made by the Jordanian-born terror mastermind.
It could also not be determined when the speech was delivered, although the speaker refers to code names for U.S. military operations launched in recent weeks.
Al-Zarqawi's attacks against Iraqi Shiites, who comprise an estimated 60 percent of the country's 26 million people, have raised fears that this nation could descend into civil war.
In Jordan, meanwhile, police arrested al-Zarqawi's spiritual mentor Tuesday as he was being interviewed on Al-Jazeera television, his first public appearance since his release from prison last week, the Arab satellite channel said.
Al-Jazeera said Isam al-Barqawi, also known as Sheik Abu-Mohammed al-Maqdisi, was detained during the interview with its correspondent in Jordan, but gave no details.
Al-Barqawi is said to have taught al-Zarqawi radical Islamic ideology while they shared a cellblock for four years between 1995 and 1999. Both were freed in an amnesty, and al-Zarqawi later went to Afghanistan, then to Iraq, where his followers have waged a campaign of car bombings, attacks and kidnappings.