updated 10/11/2005 9:05:25 PM ET 2005-10-12T01:05:25

In a letter to his top deputy in Iraq, al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader says the U.S. “ran and left” in Vietnam and the jihadists must have a plan ready to fill the void if the Americans suddenly leave Iraq.

“Things may develop faster than we imagine,” Ayman al-Zawahri wrote in a letter that U.S. intelligence believes to be addressed to his top deputy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. “The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam — and how they ran and left their agents — is noteworthy. ... We must be ready starting now.”

In a wide-ranging letter spanning over 12 typed pages in the English translation, al-Zawahri also recommends a four-stage expansion of the war that would take the fighting to neighboring Muslim countries.

“It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established ... in the heart of the Islamic world,” al-Zawahri writes.

The letter lays out his long-term plan: expel the Americans from Iraq, establish an Islamic authority and take the war to Iraq’s secular neighbors, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

The final stage, al-Zawahri writes, would be a clash with Israel, which he says was established to challenge “any new Islamic entity.”

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, is dated July 9, and was acquired during U.S. operations in Iraq. It was written in Arabic and translated by the U.S. government.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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