The deputy leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, told the United States on Wednesday that it was negotiating with the wrong people in Iraq, strongly implying in a video broadcast on Al-Jazeera that Washington should be talking to his terror group.
"I want to tell the Republicans and the Democrats together ... you are trying to negotiate with some parties to secure your withdrawal, but these parities won't find you an exit (from Iraq) and your attempts will yield nothing but failure," al-Zawahri said on the tape, sections of which were aired in successive news bulletins.
"It seems that you will go through a painful journey of failed negotiations until you will be forced to return to negotiate with the real powers," he said, without identifying these powers.
The video, which bore the logo of al-Qaida's media production house, al-Sahab, was the 15th time this year that al-Zawahri has sent out a statement. In Wednesday's tape, he appeared exactly as in previous videos that have been authenticated by CIA analysts. He wore a black turban and white robe and pointed his finger at the camera for emphasis. As usual, he had a rifle behind his right shoulder that was leaning against a plain brown backdrop.
Al-Zawahri attacked the proposal of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold early elections to resolve the contest between the Fatah and Hamas parties, which has degenerated to daily gunbattles in the streets of Gaza.
In the clips broadcast by Al-Jazeera, al-Zawahri did not say how the two parties should settle their dispute, but he scoffed at elections, saying: "Any way other than holy war, will lead us only to loss and defeat."
He did not say whom the Palestinians should fight, but previously he has always recommended "holy war" against Israel and the West.
He described Abbas as "America's man in Palestine," and warned that if Palestinians accepted him as their president, it would be "the end of holy war."
In what appeared to be a reference to Abbas and his Fatah party, al-Zawahri said: "Those who are trying to liberate the Islamic territories through elections based on secular constitutions, or on decisions to hand over Palestine to the Jews, will not liberate one grain of sand of Palestine."
He also criticized the militant Hamas party, although he did not name it, which has condemned the proposal for early elections. He accused Hamas of making a number of concessions that would ultimately lead to "the recognition of Israel."
He said these concessions began with Hamas' signing "the truce" with Israel last year, then the group took part in the January elections "based on a secular constitution," and recognized Abbas as the head of the Palestinian authority.
No response from Palestinians
Al-Zawahri rebuked Hamas particularly for not pushing for an Islamic constitution before it contested the elections.
"Aren't they an Islamic movement? Aren't they campaigning for the word of God to be supreme?" he said, adding the party should have insisted on the drafting of "an Islamic constitution for Palestine."
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum brushed off al-Zawahri's criticism and defended the party's electoral policy.
"Our Palestinian institutions are in need of reform, and to fix them we need to participate in the parliament and other institutions," Barhoum said.
"We are not responding to al-Zawahri so much as we are affirming who we are as a movement," Barhoum added.
Al-Zawahri's comments were expected to have little influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas has distanced itself from al-Qaida, saying its struggle is against Israel, not the West at large.
"I don't think it would have any impact," said analyst Diaa Rashwan of the tape.
Rashwan, an expert on militant groups at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said Hamas is a strong critic of al-Qaida, although both groups call for Israel's destruction.
Abbas has accused al-Qaida of infiltrating the Palestinian territories, but Palestinian security officials say there is no hard evidence of that. They accuse local groups of fabricating links to al-Qaida as a diversion.
Al-Jazeera staff declined to comment on how and when they obtained the tape.
The broadcast came two days after a posting on a militant Islamic Web site announced that a message from al-Zawahri was coming.