- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

BAGHDAD — An audiotape attributed to Iraq’s most feared terrorist lashed out yesterday at Sunni Muslim clerics for not speaking out against U.S. attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. and Iraqi officials said they would press their offensive against insurgents after the fall of Fallujah.

In the tape posted yesterday on an Islamic Web site, Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi condemned the “silence” of Muslim religious figures, saying they have “let us down in the darkest circumstances.”

The authenticity of the 16-minute tape could not be determined, and it was not clear when it was made.

However, the posting followed the insurgents’ defeat this month in Fallujah and appeared to be a sign of anger that Sunni religious leaders were unable to muster the same degree of public outrage that they did in April when U.S. Marines were besieging the city. That backlash led the Marines to break off the siege.

Two Sunni clerics from the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, which opposed the Fallujah assault, were assassinated this week.

With the capture of Fallujah, the U.S. general in charge of training Iraqi troops said U.S. and Iraqi forces would step up counterinsurgency operations in the run-up to the Jan. 30 national elections.

“Everyone recognizes that it will be a fight to the elections in those provinces where the insurgents are active,” Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told reporters after a graduation ceremony for Iraqi soldiers near Kut.

Gen. Petraeus said most of the country’s 18 provinces were calm, but “in the four or six Sunni-majority provinces where the insurgents are most active, there’s still a good deal of fighting to be done.”

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who attended the graduation, repeated his pledge that elections would take place on schedule.

But a group of mostly Sunni politicians plan to meet tomorrow to discuss whether they should urge the government to postpone the election for three or four months because of the security situation.

Those planning to attend include representatives of the Iraqi Islamic party, the National Democratic Party, the Iraqi Communist Party and the two major Kurdish parties.

Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said the Iraqi government intends to turns its attention to insurgents inside Baghdad once the offensive south of the capital is completed.

“There are pockets in Baghdad that we have to liquidate and confront,” he said.

Five more bodies were discovered yesterday in the northern city of Mosul, where insurgents have been targeting Iraqi police and soldiers for assassination, killing 20 in the past week, the military said.

Before the latest grisly discovery, U.S. troops had found 10 bodies of soldiers — nine of those shot execution-style — who belonged to the Iraqi regular army, based at the al-Kisik military base about 30 miles west of Mosul, near Tal Afar, he said. Five other bodies, including four decapitated ones, have not been identified, he said.

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