BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP)- Al-Qaeda 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 who had “vowed to die for God’s sake.”
The U.S. military, meanwhile, reported that 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.
On the audio tape made available on militant Web sites, the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader also welcomed the Republican electoral defeat that led to the departure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. He added that the group’s fighters would not rest until they had blown up the White House.
“The al-Qaeda army has 12,000 fighters in Iraq, and they have vowed to die for God’s sake,” a man who identified himself 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.
“We will not rest from our Jihad until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have blown up the filthiest house — which is called the White House,” al-Muhajir said. It was not clear what Rumieh was referring to.
Al-Muhajir became the leader of al-Qaeda 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.
Since the war started in March 2003, 2,845 members of the U.S. military have died, according to an Associated Press count.
The Iraqi army also said it captured the Egyptian leader of an al-Qaeda 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-Qaeda 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.
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.
The new deaths came a day after Iraqi Health Minister Ali al-Shemari estimated 150,000 civilians have been killed in the war — about three times previously accepted estimates.
In comments to the AP during a visit to Austria, al-Shemari said he based his figure on an estimate of 100 bodies per day brought to morgues and hospitals — although such a calculation would come out closer to 130,000 in total.
“It is an estimate,” al-Shemari said.
Hassan Salem, of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, said the 150,000 figure included civilians and police, as well as those who were abducted, killed and whose bodies were brought to morgues run by the Health Ministry. SCIRI is Iraq’s largest Shiite political organization and holds the largest number of seats in parliament.
No official account for Iraq deaths in the post-invasion conflict has ever been available. Accurate figures are difficult to establish because police and hospitals often give widely conflicting tolls of those killed in major bombings. Death figures also are reported through multiple channels by government agencies that function with varying efficiency.
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.