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Zawahri says US defeated in Iraq
The Sydney Morning Herald/Reuters
January 8, 2006

Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in a video aired on Friday that US President George Bush's plans to withdraw troops from Iraq meant Washington had been defeated by the Muslims.

He also criticised Islamist groups, including Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood, for believing in Western-style democracy and taking part in elections.

"Bush, you must confess that you have been defeated in Iraq and in Afghanistan and you will be in Palestine soon," he said in the video broadcast by Al Jazeera television.

Al Jazeera said the video by Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, which had English subtitles, carried the date of the Muslim lunar month which ended in December.

"I congratulate the Muslims on Islam's victory in Iraq. I said more than a year ago that the Americans' departure from Iraq is only a matter of time," said the bespectacled Zawahri, who wore a white turban and sat next to an assault rifle.

"But they are justifying their withdrawal by saying that the Iraqi forces have reached a satisfactory level."

Critics of Mr Bush have demanded a quick withdrawal from Iraq, where around 2200 American military personnel have been killed since the 2003 US-led invasion, and say the president needs a clear exit strategy.

Mr Bush, who has refused to set a timetable for any withdrawal, said on Wednesday reducing troops in Iraq was possible in 2006.

But he said any cuts would be based on the situation on the ground and decisions by military commanders, not on a political timetable imposed by Washington.

In Washington, a US counter-terrorism official said: "US intelligence is assessing the video tape. It appears to be a recitation of well-worn jihadist themes. There's nothing particularly new."

The satellite television station aired portions of the tape.

Egyptian-born Zawahri said elections in his home country were a "US game ... designed to mislead the Muslim public".

"America tells Islamists: every time your behaviour improves, we'll give you more (seats), until you become secularists with only a false affiliation to Islam."

In the elections late last year, candidates linked to the Muslim Brotherhood increased their seats more than five-fold to 88 of the 444 elected seats, confirming the group as Egypt's strongest opposition.

"My Muslim nation, you will never enjoy free elections ... and governments answerable to their people ... unless you are liberated from the Crusader-Zionist occupation and corrupt governments, and that can only be achieved through jihad (holy war)."

Bin Laden and Zawahri have eluded capture since US-led forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban government in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda.