CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq railed against Shiites in a four-hour-long audiotape harangue posted on the Internet, saying militias are raping women and killing Sunnis and the community must fight back. The tape, released Friday, by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi appeared aimed at sabotaging the Iraqi government’s efforts to name a unity government _ but was also intended to enflame rising Shiite-Sunni tensions across the Arab world. “There’s a civil war going on in Iraq, but it will not become truly fierce until it’s exported outside Iraq. This tape is trying to do just that,” said Dawood al-Shirian, a Saudi political commentator.
The No. 2 man in al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, chastised al-Zarqawi last September for attacking Shiites, recalled Bruce Hoffman, a RAND Corp. terrorism expert. “Obviously, he (al-Zarqawi) is thumbing his nose at the al-Qaida central leadership,” Hoffman said. “That’s significant.”
A written statement said the audiotape was made two months ago. The CIA said Friday that technical analysis of the tape confirmed it was al-Zarqawi’s voice.
Al-Zarqawi’s Sunni insurgent followers have carried out some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Iraq’s conflict and have frequently targeted Shiite civilians and mosques in an attempt to spark civil war. In his statements, the Jordanian-born militant often vilifies Shiites as infidels. But the tape posted Friday was an unprecedented screed that chronicled what al-Zarqawi said was a Shiite campaign throughout history to destroy Islam and help foreign invaders of Muslim lands. “Sunnis, wake up, pay attention and prepare to confront the poisons of the Shiite snakes,” al-Zarqawi said. “Forget about those advocating the end of sectariansim and calling for national unity.”
He pointed to two Shiite militias with links to parties in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, accused by Sunnis in Iraq of running death squads in a recent wave of sectarian violence.
“They kill men and arrest women, put them in prison and rape them and steal everything from the houses of the Sunnis,” he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said al-Zarqawi expressed “a futile brutality, depraved mentally and morally.” “I believe the Iraqi people won’t listen to such miserable words,” he told a news conference in Baghdad.
“Reconciliation is the hope for all Iraqis, and all Iraqis welcome it.”
Al-Maliki has put together a government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that U.S. and Iraqi officials hope will be able to ease spiraling sectarian violence in the country. But al-Maliki has struggled to get the parties to agree on key security posts that would lead any effort to bring stability, the interior and defense ministries. He said Thursday he intends to announce names for the posts even without an agreement between his government partners in an attempt to force a resolution to the continuing differences.
Al-Zarqawi appeared to be aiming at a wider audience, seeking to rally Sunni radicals by tapping into mistrust of Shiites and non-Arab Shiite Iran. He denounced Shiites across the Mideast, saying they were “the same as Jews, with secret meetings” and loyalty to a “mother country,” Israel for the Jews, Iran for the Shiites. He called the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah the “enemy of Sunnis” and accused it of working to protect Israel from Lebanon-based Palestinian guerrillas. Hezbollah gained widespread popularity among both Sunnis and Shiites for its fight against Israel. But its support at home has waned amid resentment by anti-Syrian Lebanese for its alliance with Damascus and Tehran. The head of south Lebanon’s Shiite religious scholars, Sheik Afif al-Naboulsi, said the militant leader was seeking to “incite sectarian sentiments” and “name himself the leader of the Sunnis.”
The conflict in Iraq has reopened the long dormant fault lines between the two communities across the Arab world, where Sunnis form the vast majority.
Sunni-led governments have shown increasing fear of restiveness among their Shiite populations. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak enraged Shiites earlier this year when he said they were more loyal to Iran than their own countries, and Jordan’s King Abdullah has warned of a “Shiite crescent” of power.
It was al-Zarqawi’s first message since an April 29 videotape that seemed aimed at creating a hero’s image of himself in the eyes of extremists after criticism over Muslim civilian deaths in some of his attacks, particularly hotel bombings in the Jordanian capital that killed 63 people. The video was the first to show his face and had images of him firing a machine gun in the desert and consulting with mujahedeen leaders, apparently to emphasize his control.