BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqis condemned terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a foreigner determined to destroy their country, saying Wednesday his new video threatening more attacks may have surfaced in response to the formation of a unity government.
Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, made an unprecedented appearance on a video Tuesday, dismissing the new Iraqi government as an American "stooge" and a "poisoned dagger" in the heart of the Muslim world. He also warned of more attacks to come.
Sheik Khalid al-Attiyah, the Iraqi parliament's newly appointed first deputy speaker, said the video shows al-Zarqawi remains determined "to inflame a civil war" in Iraq. But al-Attiyah said it also indicates the insurgent leader, an outsider to many Iraqis, fears the country's new government will unify Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
The video — the first released by al-Zarqawi showing his face — was posted on the Internet days after a breakthrough in Iraq's political process allowing its Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders to start assembling a government.
"I believe that al-Zarqawi was caught off guard by the new government taking shape because it will be very strong one representing all Iraqis," al-Attiyah said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who made an unannounced trip to Iraq on Wednesday along with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, also noted the formation of the new government was a setback for the insurgents.
"The answer to the Zarqawi video is not anything that the United States can say, it's what the Iraqis are saying in having formed a government of national unity despite all the threats and all of the violence," she said on the plane en route to Baghdad.
Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki on Sunday began the tough task of assembling a Cabinet out of Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties. He has 30 days to do it, but the parties are under enormous pressure — from Americans and even Shiite religious leaders — to quickly rein in both the Sunni-led insurgency and the Shiite-Sunni killings that escalated during months without a stable government.
Meanwhile, the violence continued.
The bombing of a passenger minibus in Baghdad and other attacks Wednesday killed six Iraqis and two insurgents. Police also found the bodies of 10 Iraqis who had been tortured — four in Baghdad and six in Karbala. All the Karbala victims had been shot in the right eye.
On Tuesday, coalition forces attacked a safe house being used by suspected foreign insurgents in Youssifiyah near Baghdad, killing 12 militants and a woman. Troops discovered suicide notes, explosives vests, hand grenades and ammunition in the wreckage of the house.
More than 100 Iraqi civilians or police have been killed in insurgency- or sectarian-related violence since al-Maliki was tapped as Iraq's prime minister designate on Saturday and asked to choose a Cabinet for a national unity government.
Jamal Salman, 40, a minority Sunni Arab who lives in eastern Baghdad, said he believes al-Zarqawi is "very serious" about his threats.
"He was speaking at a time of serious terrorist attacks, not only in Iraq but in other Arab countries such as Egypt," the Oil Ministry employee said, referring to a suspected terrorist attack Monday in the Egyptian resort town of Dahab that killed 24 people.
The video came only two days after Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, to whom al-Zarqawi has sworn allegiance, released an audiotape calling on Muslims to resist what he called the West's war on Islam.
In the video, al-Zarqawi addressed Sunnis in Iraq and across the Arab world, warning their community was in danger of being caught between "the Crusaders and the evil Rejectionists," the terms used by radical Sunnis for the Americans and Iraq's majority Shiites.
The message appeared to be an attempt by al-Zarqawi to rally Iraqis and foreign fighters to his side and show his strength at a time when U.S. and Iraqi officials are touting the political progress.
"God almighty has chosen you (Sunnis) to conduct holy war in your lands and has opened the doors of paradise to you ... So mujahedeen, don't dare close those doors," he said. "They are slaughtering your children and shaming your women."
Any new government — "whether made up of the hated Shiites or the secular Zionist Kurds or the collaborators imposed on the Sunnis — will be stooges of the Crusaders and will be a poisoned dagger in the heart of the Islamic nation," he said.
He also addressed President Bush, telling him, "Your dreams will be defeated by our blood and by our bodies. What is coming is even worse."
Al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for some of the bloodiest suicide bombings in Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein and for the beheadings and killings of at least 10 foreign hostages, including three Americans and a Briton.
Arab television networks aired portions of the video Tuesday at the same time Iraq's government-owned TV showed an interview with al-Maliki, who called for Iraq's divided Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to unite against terrorism.
"If we can reach unity between all the components of the people, the canals of terrorism will dry up," al-Maliki said.
Azzat al-Shahabandar, a spokesman for former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraq's National Accord Party, also condemned al-Zarqawi on Wednesday and said he took his threats seriously.
"Al-Zarqawi is the poisoned dagger in the Islamic world. This dagger will eventually turn and stab al-Zarqawi himself because he is crippled and unable to appear in public," al-Shahabandar said.
In a busy area of Baghdad during morning rush hour Wednesday, Iraqi residents condemned al-Zarqawi and his video.
"Al-Zarqawi proudly calls himself the prince of slaughter and killing, but he doesn't come from Iraq and I don't think he acts like a Muslim either," said Bassim Abdul Abbas al-Janabi, a middle-aged man.
Actor Jabar Mahbes said he is proud of the great history of his ancient country and believes it doesn't need foreign terrorists or U.S. forces.
"Maybe the Iraqi people are finally waking up to the fact that they don't need either side, that we can rebuild this country with our own government," he said.
Sabah Hamza agreed, saying al-Zarqawi "has no place in Iraq." But he also noted it won't be easy to keep the countries problems from dividing Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.