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Getting inside al-Zarqawi's message

MSNBC terrorism analyst Phares discusses what the terrorist leader may be trying to accomplish
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After reports that he was wounded surfaced last week, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi allegedly put out an audiotape over the weekend claiming he was in good health.

According to NBC News sources, intelligence officials believe the voice on the tape is that of al-Zarqawi. In the 17-minute message, al Zarqawi addresses his followers and specifically Osama Bin Laden, saying he is awaiting orders from the al-Qaida leader.

The timing of the tape and its message could have many meanings, according to MSNBC Terrorism analyst Walid Phares, who spoke with MSNBC's Amy Robach on Tuesday.

To watch the full interview, click the video box above. An excerpt of the interview follows:

Amy Robach: How possible is it that this new message is simply a P.R. stunt by al-Zarqawi?

Walid Phares: It is, on the one hand. But on the other hand, when you have a lot of information and a lot of publicity about the fact that he's critically wounded, and al-Qaida's cells are not connected instantly, he had to make this public speech or audio message. ... It is very clear that he is going to be back, that he is back in business that he will continue to be connected to Osama bin Laden. That's basically addressing his own troops in Iraq.

Robach: Walid, it is interesting it was audio tape, not a video tape, because his appearance at this point -- being the most wanted man in Iraq -- certainly plays a role in this. Others say he could have been more injured than we believe. What do you make of the audio verses the videotape in this?

Phares: I think your first argument holds now, because he has traditionally been opposed to show his face, at least as it looks right now. ... because he is not hiding, he is moving from one area to the other, so that would be a big problem for him. So he continues with this tactic of not showing his face until he has an enclave or a place where he can rule, like Fallujah, which he doesn't have anymore.

Robach: In what he says, Zarqawi addresses Bin Laden directly, saying 'We are awaiting your orders.' Is he jus t paying lip service to Bin Laden, or is there a real relationship between the two, where he would take an order from Bin Laden?

Phares: Actually, there is a strategic relationship between Zarqawi and Bin Laden, and actually, also, he communicates with him with different means. This is to show his own people and to show the people of al-Qaida around the world that both are connected and that is to show the world, including his enemies, that al-Qaida is present in Iraq, and that is very important for the jihadists to show that because it gives them credibility. Al-Qaida is basically fighting only in Iraq. In any other battlefield, they're only doing terrorism. In Iraq, they're doing insurgency. That's different.

Robach: Also of note, the audiotape seems to blame Shiites, specifically Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, for helping the United States. The intention seems to be to stir up ethnic wars. Do you believe that what he said could be successful in continuing to have these two ethnic groups fight?

Phares: Basically, al-Qaida and the fundamentalist ideology of al-Qaida, do not like the Shiites to start with.  But more specifically, the role of Sistani has been instrumental in basically stopping the insurgency in the Shiite area. Remember, (Muqtada) al-Sadr has been contained by Sistani, which compels me to say that Sistani would be a target. One would have to be very careful, himself or the leaders of the Shiite community in Iraq are targets for al-Qaida because they are the ones that are containing the Sunni uprising from reaching Shiite areas, so he is their enemy.

Watch Randy Meier and Amy Robach weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon on MSNBC Live.