BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military command Thursday released previously unseen images of a video purportedly posted by Al Qaeda in Iraq's leader, showing him decked out in American tennis shoes and unable to operate his machine gun.
Authorities also said 31 "foreign fighters" had been killed since April and 161 Al Qaeda in Iraq leaders were killed or captured since January, seriously undercutting the group's logistical abilities.
The video, discovered in a series of raids in April on purported Al Qaeda in Iraq safe houses in the Youssifiyah area, 12 miles southwest of Baghdad, gave a view of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that the Jordanian-born militant chose not to show the world, said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for the U.S. command.
Al-Zarqawi is "very proud of the fact that he can operate this machine gun, and he proclaims that, and all of his close associates are very proud of what Zarqawi does," Lynch said in a briefing in which he played a snippet from the video posted by militants on April 25.
But as the previously unseen video was shown, Lynch mocked al-Zarqawi, suggesting his weapon jammed and he was unable to fix it.
"It's supposed to be automatic fire, he's shooting single shots. Something is wrong with his machine gun, he looks down, can't figure out, calls his friend to come unblock the stoppage and get the weapon firing again," Lynch said.
"This piece you all see as he walks away, he's wearing his black uniform and his New Balance tennis shoes as he moves to this white pickup. And, his close associates around him ... do things like grab the hot barrel of the machine gun and burn themselves," the military spokesman added.
In the version that appeared on the Internet, al-Zarqawi swore allegiance to Usama bin Laden and said any government formed in Iraq would merely be a "stooge." He also mocked the U.S. military in Iraq for what he described as suicides, drug use and mutinies, and warned of worse attacks to come.
Lynch, who described the earlier video as "an act of desperation," declined to specify exactly where or when the unedited material was found.
But he said it was discovered during a number of raids on insurgent safe houses in the Youssifiyah area beginning April 8, and which also stretched slightly north of Baghdad. Those raids led to the deaths of 31 suspected foreign fighters — a group which accounts for 90 percent of the suicide bombers used by Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Lynch said that U.S. operations against al-Zarqawi had dramatically cut the number of suicide attacks in the country from an average of 75 per month to fewer than 25 per month now.
"We believe that he is getting facilitation for foreign fighters and funds out of Syria" and that his focus of operations is currently in the Baghdad area, Lynch said.
"He is focusing his efforts inside of Baghdad. Baghdad is his center of gravity," Lynch said.
That belief was supported by a series of planning documents also seized in the raids in the Youssifiyah area raids, which was used as a staging area for the suicide attacks, he said.
The documents spelled out al-Zarqawi's strategy in Iraq — focusing on the Baghdad area and targeting the Shiite majority while reducing the number of attacks in Sunni Arab areas.
"He is clearly trying to drive a wedge between the sectarian population here inside of Iraq, and he is focused on the Shiite community," said Lynch, referring to one document. "He says that the Shia population in Baghdad is his primary target."