The purported leader of al-Qaida-linked insurgents in Iraq offered a one-month truce for U.S. troops to withdraw from the country without being attacked, according to a speech posted on an Islamic Web site Friday.
The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, said his fighters were now launching a new offensive, “the offensive of the strong.” He said the offensive would last until the final day of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, which should finish about Jan. 3.
It was the first time an audio has been issued in the name of al-Baghdadi. The “Islamic State of Iraq” was declared in October by a coalition of Sunni Arab insurgent groups, chief among them al-Qaida in Iraq. Until now, its Web statements have been issued by spokesmen.
The authenticity of the 20-minute audio could not be verified immediately. It appeared on an Islamic Web site known for displaying militant groups’ statements. In Washington, a senior U.S. intelligence official said the CIA was reviewing the recording to determine its authenticity.
Al-Baghdadi’s speech appeared aimed at establishing the credibility of the “Islamic state” among Sunni Arabs, locked in increasing sectarian violence with Iraq’s Shiite majority. Sunni Arab insurgents hold sway in parts of western Anbar province and some towns and villages of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad; in some districts, they have even tried to enforce strict versions of Islamic law on residents.
'Islamic state' said to be gaining popularity
Al-Baghdadi depicted his “Islamic state” as growing in support and organization. He listed 20 Iraqi tribes he said had pledged their loyalty and said the “state” had set up Islamic courts that had executed a man and woman for adultery.
He called on former officers in Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army to join, promising to provide them with a salary and house so long as they could recite three “suras,” or chapters of the Quran to prove their Islamic credentials.
Addressing the United States, al-Baghdadi said: “We are announcing today our orders for you, so obey them before you regret it.
“We order you to withdraw your troops immediately, using troop carriers and aircraft, and taking only your personal weapons. Don’t withdraw any heavy weapons. Instead you should hand over those and your military bases to the holy warriors of the Islamic State,” he said.
He said the withdrawal period should not exceed one month, and during that time “we will allow your withdrawal to proceed without being attacked by explosives or any other form.”
Washington had two weeks to respond to the truce offer, he said.
Calls Bush 'a liar'
Al-Baghdadi referred to a warning by President Bush in an October speech that militants aim to establish an Islamic state from east Asia to Spain. “He spoke the truth, although he is a liar,” he said of Bush.
Al-Baghdadi claimed that Washington tried to open a channel of negotiation with his group through the Saudi government, but said he had rejected the initiative.
“The giant has started to fall. It is looking for an escape and seeking to negotiate with all the other groups and parties,” al-Baghdadi said.
“They sent us al-Salool,” he said, employing a derogatory historical term to refer to the Saudi ruling family. Al-Baghdadi said he spurned the offer because “we are not ones to negotiate with those who killed our children.”
Earlier this week, the No. 2 in the overall al-Qaida network, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued a videotape that congratulated the Islamic State of Iraq on its establishment and urged other Iraqi insurgents to join it. The tape was broadcast on the Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
Al-Zawahri also suggested al-Qaida was the real power in Iraq and that the United States should negotiate with it for an American withdrawal.