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Al-Qaida in Iraq says it has 12,000 fighters

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed in a new audio tape on Friday to have mobilized 12,000 fighters and said the group was winning faster than expected.
/ Source: news services

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed in a new audio tape Friday to be winning the war faster than expected in Iraq and said it had mobilized 12,000 fighters, while the U.S. military reported the deaths of four more American troops.

Three U.S. soldiers and a Marine were killed Thursday in Iraq, the U.S. military said, bringing the number of Americans who have died in the country so far this month to 25. At least 105 U.S. forces died in October, the fourth highest monthly toll of the war.

Since the war started in March 2003, 2,845 members of the U.S. military have died, according to an Associated Press count.

On the audio tape made available on militant Web sites, the al-Qaida in Iraq leader also welcomed the Republican electoral defeat that led to the departure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“The al-Qaida army has 12,000 fighters in Iraq, and they have vowed to die for God’s sake,” a man introduced as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir said.

Al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also urged the U.S. to stay in Iraq so his group would have more opportunities to kill American troops. “We haven’t had enough of your blood yet,” he told the U.S.

Al-Muhajir became the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June. The tape could not be independently verified.

“The American people have put their feet on the right path by ... realizing their president’s betrayal in supporting Israel,” the terror leader said. “So they voted for something reasonable in the last elections.”

Describing President Bush as “the most stupid president” in U.S. history, al-Masri reached out to the Muslim world and said his group was winning the war in Iraq faster than expected due to U.S. policies.

He said Bush’s policies had allowed Iran to spread its influence in Afghanistan and Iraq after Washington toppled their Sunni rulers, and expanded Iran’s reach into Syria and Lebanon.

“I swear by God we shall not rest from jihad until we ... blow up the filthiest house known as the White House,” he added.

Challenging the Bush administration, he said: “I tell the lame duck do not rush to escape as did your defense minister ...  stay on the battleground.”

Al-Qaida suspect arrested
In Iraq, meanwhile, the Iraqi army also said it captured the Egyptian leader of an al-Qaida cell in restive Anbar province.

Acting on a tip, Iraqi soldiers descended on a building in the city of Rawah, 175 miles northwest of Baghdad, where they arrested local al-Qaida commander Abu Muhayyam al-Masri, whose name, like that of the group’s overall leader, is a pseudonym meaning, “the Egyptian,” a Defense Ministry official said.

Two aides, Abu Issam al-Libi, or “the Libyan,” and Abu Zaid al-Suri, “the Syrian,” also were arrested, along with nine other members of the cell, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The pseudonyms appeared to mark the men as foreign fighters, thousands of whom are said by Iraq’s government to have crossed the porous border with Syria about 55 miles west of Rawah to join the insurgency. Their nationalities were not confirmed.

The official said al-Suri confessed to organizing at least one suicide bombing in Baghdad. He said the raid also netted a large quantity of weapons.

Rawah lies deep in Anbar province, where Sunni Arab insurgents routinely launch deadly attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces that show no sign of diminishing in numbers or intensity, more than three years after the U.S. invasion.

At least 11 of the American deaths in November have been in Anbar, including a Marine who died Thursday from wound suffered in fighting there.

A roadside bomb also killed two American soldiers and wounded another Thursday in western Baghdad, the U.S. command said. Another soldier was killed and one wounded by a roadside bomb that struck their truck Thursday during a combat logistics patrol west of Haditha, 140 miles northwest of the capital.

Deaths in showcase town
In other violence, six Iraqi soldiers were killed and 10 wounded when a suicide bomber drove his explosives-rigged car into an army checkpoint in the northern city of Tal Afar, the military said.

Army spokesman Brig. Najim Abdullah said the car stopped after soldiers opened fire as it sped toward the checkpoint. The unit’s commander, who was among those killed, then led a group of soldiers toward it, when the driver, apparently faking death, detonated the explosives, Abdullah said.

Tal Afar has suffered frequent insurgent attacks, despite President Bush’s declaration in March that the city was an example of progress made in bringing security to Iraq. Tal Afar lies 93 miles east of the Syrian border and 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Three members of a family were killed by gunmen who stormed their home near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.

At least 33 bodies also were found in Baghdad and several nearby cities, morgue officials said.

A member of the movement of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, al-Shemari also repeated the Shiite-dominated government’s demands for a speedier U.S. transfer of authority to Iraqi forces and the withdrawal of U.S. troops to their bases, away from Iraq’s cities and towns.

“The army of America didn’t do its job. ... They tie the hands of my government,” al-Shemari said. presence in Iraq.