The deputy leader of Al Qaeda said the United States was negotiating with the wrong people in Iraq, implying in a video broadcast Wednesday on Al-Jazeera that Washington should be talking to his group.
"I want to tell the Republicans and the Democrats together ... you are trying to negotiate with some parties to secure your withdrawal, but these parties won't find you an exit (from Iraq) and your attempts will yield nothing but failure," Ayman al-Zawahiri said on the video.
"It seems that you will go through a painful journey of failed negotiations until you will be forced to return to negotiate with the real powers," he said, without elaborating.
The video — which bore the logo of Al Qaeda's media production house, al-Sahab — was the 15th time this year that Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri has sent out a statement. In Wednesday's tape, he appeared exactly as in previous videos that have been authenticated by CIA analysts. He wore a black turban and white robe and pointed his finger at the camera for emphasis. As usual, he had a rifle behind his right shoulder that was leaning against a plain brown backdrop.
Al-Zawahiri appeared to be trying to mobilize support against a range of Middle Eastern players — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his Hamas opponents, Iran and its Shiite allies in Iraq and elsewhere.
He attacked Abbas' proposal to hold early elections to resolve the increasingly violent rivalry between his moderate Fatah party and the militant Hamas movement, which dominates the parliament. The situation has degenerated to daily gunbattles in the streets of Gaza.
In the clips broadcast by Al-Jazeera, al-Zawahiri did not say how the two parties should settle their dispute, but he scoffed at elections, saying: "Any way other than holy war, will lead us only to loss and defeat."
He did not say whom the Palestinians should fight, but previously he has always recommended "holy war" against Israel and the West.
He described Abbas as "America's man in Palestine," and warned that if Palestinians accepted him as their president, it would be "the end of holy war."
In what appeared to be a reference to Abbas and his Fatah party, al-Zawahiri said: "Those who are trying to liberate the Islamic territories through elections based on secular constitutions, or on decisions to hand over Palestine to the Jews, will not liberate one grain of sand of Palestine."
He also criticized the militant Hamas party — although he did not name it — which has condemned the proposal for early elections. He accused Hamas of making a number of concessions that would ultimately lead to "the recognition of Israel."
He said these concessions began with Hamas' signing "the truce" with Israel last year, then the group took part in the January elections "based on a secular constitution," and recognized Abbas as the head of the Palestinian authority.
Al-Zawahiri rebuked Hamas particularly for not pushing for an Islamic constitution before it contested the elections.
"Aren't they an Islamic movement? Aren't they campaigning for the word of God to be supreme?" he said, adding the party should have insisted on the drafting of "an Islamic constitution for Palestine."
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum brushed off al-Zawahiri's criticism and defended the party's electoral policy.
"Our Palestinian institutions are in need of reform, and to fix them we need to participate in the parliament and other institutions," Barhoum said.
"We are not responding to al-Zawahiri so much as we are affirming who we are as a movement," Barhoum added.
Al-Zawahiri's comments were expected to have little influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas has distanced itself from Al Qaeda, saying its struggle is against Israel, not the West at large.
"I don't think it would have any impact," said analyst Diaa Rashwan of the tape.
Rashwan, an expert on militant groups at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said Hamas is a strong critic of Al Qaeda, although both groups call for Israel's destruction.
Abbas has accused Al Qaeda of infiltrating the Palestinian territories, but Palestinian security officials say there is no hard evidence of that. They accuse local groups of fabricating links to al-Qaida as a diversion.
Al-Zawahiri criticized Iran and Shiites abroad who supported the U.S.-backed governments in Iraq and Afghanistan while they also backed the anti-Israeli forces in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.