BAGHDAD (AP) – Osama bin Laden scolded his al-Qaeda followers in Iraq and other insurgents, saying they have “been lax” for failing to overcome fanatical tribal loyalties and unite in the fight against U.S. troops.
The message of his new audiotape Monday reflected the growing disarray among Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgents and bin Laden’s client group in the country, both of which are facing heavy U.S. military pressure and an uprising among Sunni tribesmen.
In the brief tape played on Al-Jazeera television, the terrorist leader urged militants to “beware of division … The Muslim world is waiting for you to gather under one banner.”
He used the word “ta’assub” — “fanaticism” — to chastise insurgents for putting their allegiance to tribe or radical organization above the larger fight to overcome American forces.
While the authenticity of the tape could not be verified immediately, the voice resembled that of bin Laden in previous messages. U.S. officials in Washington said analysts were still studying the tape. Al-Jazeera did not say how it got the tape, which was bin Laden’s third this year.
“My mujahedeen brothers in Iraq, you are a people worthy of praise and flattery. You’ve done well to carry out a glorious duty by fighting the enemy. But some of you have lagged behind in carrying out another glorious duty, which is to unite as one — as God wants,” bin Laden said.
He warned followers “against hypocritical enemies who are infiltrating your ranks to create sedition among mujahedeen groups.”
Anthony Cordesman, a terror analyst for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said bin Laden’s underlying message appeared to be aimed at al-Qaeda in Iraq — “that al-Qaeda needs to be less arrogant and moderate its conduct.”
Cordesman pointed to al-Qaeda in Iraq’s attempts to impose Taliban-like Islamic laws in some areas it controlled as well as its killings of rival tribal figures, actions that alienated some Sunni Arabs and led them to join a movement opposing al-Qaida.
To showcase the success of that tribal alliance, the U.S. military planned what it called a “unification parade” in Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital, on Tuesday.
Maj. Lee Peters, a military spokesman for the area, said security would be increased to protect the celebration. It was to include at least 200 Sunni sheiks and hundreds of other dignitaries to commemorate Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the founder of the anti-al-Qaeda group who was assassinated by a bomb Sept. 13.
Abdul-Sattar’s brother, who has taken over the movement, said it was important to maintain pressure on insurgents, recalling that about 50 al-Qaeda militants marched through downtown Ramadi a year ago in a show of force.
“The people felt weak and afraid because of al-Qaeda. Now there is a feeling of strength,” Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha told The Associated Press at his heavily guarded compound as a band practiced for the parade in the backyard. “This year I want to have a good parade to show that we support the law.”
The U.S. military, meanwhile, kept up pressure on Shiite Muslim militants as well.
Baghdad police said American helicopters strafed a building in the capital’s Sadr City district, wounding a woman and her daughter, the second claim in as many days of civilian casualties from U.S. attacks in the Shiite enclave.
Iraqi officials disputed an American military claim that 49 militants were killed Sunday in a ground and air assault that targeted an Iranian-linked militia chief, insisting the number of casualties was 15 — all civilians.
Aides to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr condemned the raid but urged followers to abide by his orders to refrain from violence despite what it called “the crimes of the Americans.”
“We call upon al-Sadr’s people to show self-restraint. Their reaction should be peaceful and should not violate the order … to freeze their activities,” said Falah al-Obeidi at the cleric’s office in Sadr City.
Al-Sadr later issued his own statement urging his Mahdi Army militia not to harm or kill fellow Iraqis. He also appeared to call on members of Iraqi government forces to stop cooperating with the U.S. military.
“You army and police of Iraq, don’t kill an Iraqi in the name of secular laws or in the name of ‘imposing the law,'” he said, using his phrase for the security crackdown in Baghdad and surrounding areas.
The U.S. military has said repeatedly that it welcomed al-Sadr’s order to his Mahdi Army fighters but pledged to continue its crackdown against what it says are breakaway factions that are being armed and trained by Iran.
One of those suspected faction leaders, who was accused of leading a kidnapping ring, was the target of Sunday’s raid. The military said he was not killed or captured.
Other Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad were rattled by bombs Monday as at least 50 people were killed or found dead nationwide, according to police, hospital and morgue officials.
The figure included 25 bullet-riddled bodies, some decapitated, in a mass grave at Nadhum village in the mainly Sunni region around Lake Tharthar northwest of the capital. Police said the victims appeared to have been killed within the past three months.
Overall, the number of deadly attacks has dropped recently, with U.S. and Iraqi military officials citing the influx of soldiers ordered in by President Bush. The full contingent of 30,000 reinforcements has been operating since mid-June.
In the latest reported U.S. strike, witnesses and police said attack helicopters opened fire before dawn Monday on a duplex in Sadr City that housed a family in one half and a store selling motor oil in the other. The U.S. military said it was looking into the report.
Abdul Ridha Jassim said his wife, 42-year-old Noriyah Jabbar, and 4-year-old daughter Hiba were seriously wounded.
“My poor wife and daughter. They didn’t commit any sin or mistake to suffer such serious wounds,” he said. “Who will take care and look after us. I feel a deep misery.”
The military said the U.S. ground and air assault in Sadr City on Sunday left “an estimated 49 criminals” dead, which would be one of the highest tolls for a single operation since Bush declared an end to active combat in 2003.
Iraqi officials maintained 15 civilians were killed, including a woman, a 14-year-old boy and two toddlers.
An Associated Press reporter counted 11 death certificates linked to the raid Sunday in Sadr City’s Imam Ali hospital, and hospital officials said one person died at the district’s General Hospital and three others at the neurology hospital in central Baghdad.
“At this time, we still have no evidence to suggest there are civilian casualties,” Lt. Justin Cole, a military spokesman, said Monday. He declined to comment on how the military determined 49 militants were killed, saying the information was classified.