(AP) Al Qaeda's No. 2 man claimed in a new audiotape released on a militant Web site early Friday that that five years of U.S. occupation of Iraq brought only "failure and defeat," which the Bush administration will pass on as a "problem" to the next American president.
In the recording, Ayman al-Zawahri alleged that by acting on the advice of his top commanders in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and halting further U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq until after July, U.S. President George W. Bush was "covering up for the failure" of his Iraq policies.
The authenticity of the recording, posted on a Web site known for militant messages, could not be independently verified. It bore the logo of al Qaeda's media wing and was the second recording in April by al-Zawahri, considered the terror network's chief strategist.
The first part of the recording, entitled, "Five years of the invasion of Iraq and decades of injustice by tyrants," deals with Iraq and calls for Muslim support of jihad, or holy war, and for backing al Qaeda's affiliate there, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq.
That part of the recording referred to Bush's statement that he would give Petraeus all the time needed to evaluate the security situation in Iraq after the current drawdown of U.S. troops ends in July and reassess U.S. troop strength.
That stance by the American president guarantees a heavy U.S. military presence in Iraq for the rest of Bush's presidency as the war grinds through its sixth year. The current total of 160,000 troops is scheduled to shrink to about 140,000 by the end of July.
"Bush declared that he will grant Petraeus all the time he needs, a ridiculous show to cover up for the failure in Iraq and to allow Bush to evade the decision to withdraw the forces, which is an admission of the failure of the crusader invasion of Iraq, by passing the problem on to the next president," al-Zawahri said.
"The truth is that if Bush keeps all his forces in Iraq until doomsday and until they enter hell, they will only see crisis and defeat by the will of God," al-Zawahri said. "If the American forces leave, they will lose everything. And if they stay, they will bleed to death."
Al-Zawahri also blasted Sunni fighters who switched sides and joined the American push to pacify Sunni areas of Iraq, the so-called "Awakening Councils," echoing similar comments posted earlier in April by al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq.
"Weren't these Awakening (Councils) supposed to hasten the departure of the American forces, or are these Awakenings in need of someone to defend them and protect them," al-Zawahri asked.
He also reiterated a recent statement allegedly by Osama bin Laden, that from Iraq the mujahideen will launch a fight to "liberate" Jerusalem.
"Iraq nowadays is the most important battlefield on which our mujahideen are waging a war against the forces of the Zionist-Christian Crusade," al-Zawahri said. "Therefore, supporting the mujahideen in Iraq and especially the Islamic State of Iraq is a most important duty."
The Iran-backed Mahdi Army Shiite leader in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has ordered his troops to halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces, "has become the laughing stock of the world" and is a "toy" in Tehran's hands, al-Zawahri said.
In the second part of the almost 16 minutes-long recording, al-Zawahri pontificated on the "exploitation of Muslims" in Egypt, his homeland, and mentions rioting in a northern industrial Egyptian town amid a nationwide strike this month and economic troubles spurred by rising bread-prices, as well as the plight of Palestinians in the Israel-besieged Gaza.
He asserted that those "starving the people of Egypt" are the same as those "who are denying food to the people of Gaza" and claimed this was allegedly all "part of a Zionist-American plot to humiliate the Muslim nation."