updated 7/5/2005 7:29:31 PM ET 2005-07-05T23:29:31

The reputed leader of al-Qaida in Iraq said in an audiotape found Wednesday on the Web that Iraqi security forces are as great an enemy as the Americans. He announced formation of a new terror command to fight Iraq’s biggest Shiite militia.

The speaker, purportedly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, challenged critics who maintain that fighting U.S. troops is legitimate but who oppose attacks on Iraqi forces. His comments appeared aimed at discouraging armed Iraqi groups from entering peace talks with the Iraqi government.

“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,” he 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 and not to mobilize the capabilities of the nation in this battle.”

“How long will the people of knowledge stay away from the battlefield of jihad, issuing verdicts and giving advice that are far from the reality that the nation is living?” he asked.

Authenticity studied
It was impossible to determine whether the speaker was actually al-Zarqawi, although the voice sounded like ones on tapes which 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 codenames for U.S. military operations launched in recent weeks.

The speaker said al-Qaida in Iraq would soon unveil a new unit, the Omar Corps, to “eradicate” the Badr Brigade, a militia of the country’s biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI.

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.

‘Honorable resistance’
A Web statement purportedly by Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the Saturday kidnapping of Egyptian diplomat Ihad al-Sherif — a move Iraqi officials believe was aimed at undercutting Arab and Muslim diplomatic support for the U.S.-backed government.

On the tape, the speaker said “honorable resistance” was not “bound by color, ethnicity or land.”

“The honorable resistance is one that rises up... and depends on God when it suffers from wounds and shortages of cadres and equipment,” he said. “Those who are said to belong to the dishonorable resistance are the ones who have fought in the path of God for more than two years. They have sacrificed their most precious belongings for this religion to rise.”

He cited major battles in Ramadi, Fallujah and other areas and asked: “Did anyone do all this other than the sons of the al-Qaida organization?”

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