- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

CAIRO — The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq railed against Shi’ite Muslims in a four-hour audiotape posted on the Internet yesterday, saying their militias are raping women and killing Sunnis and the community must fight back.

The tape by Abu Musab Zarqawi appeared aimed at sabotaging the Iraqi government’s efforts to name a unity government — but was also intended to further enflame Shi’ite-Sunni tension 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.

A written statement said the audiotape was made two months ago. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed, but it was posted on a Web forum often used by al Qaeda in Iraq for messages and the voice resembled Zarqawi’s on other tapes.

In violence in Iraq yesterday, two bombs exploded in quick succession at a pet market in central Baghdad, killing at least five persons and wounding 57, police said. The explosives were left in a bag at the al-Ghazil market, where Iraqis can go every Friday to buy dogs, birds, snakes and other animals.

Zarqawi’s Sunni insurgent followers have carried out some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Iraq’s conflict and have frequently targeted Shi’ite civilians and mosques in an attempt to spark a civil war. In his statements, the Jordanian-born militant often vilifies Shi’ites as infidels.

But the tape posted yesterday was an unprecedented screed that chronicled what Zarqawi said was a Shi’ite 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 Shi’ite snakes,” Zarqawi said. “Forget about those advocating the end of sectarianism and calling for national unity.”

He pointed to two Shi’ite militias with links to parties in the Shi’ite-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 Zarqawi expressed “a futile brutality, depraved mentally and morally.”

“I believe the Iraqi people won’t listen to such miserable words,” he told reporters in Baghdad. “Reconciliation is the hope for all Iraqis, and all Iraqis welcome it.”

Zarqawi appeared to be aiming at a wider audience, seeking to rally Sunni radicals by tapping into mistrust of Shi’ites and non-Arab Shi’ite Iran.

He denounced Shi’ites across the Middle East, saying they were “the same as Jews, with secret meetings” and loyalty to a “mother country” — Israel for the Jews, Iran for the Shi’ites. He called the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah the “enemy of Sunnis” and accused it of working to protect Israel from Lebanon-based Palestinian guerrillas.

It was Zarqawi’s first message since an April 29 videotape that showed him firing a machine gun in the desert and consulting with mujahedeen leaders, apparently to emphasize his control.

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