Bin Laden urges Iraq rebel unity, admits wrongs

DUBAI Mon Oct 22, 2007 6:17pm EDT

A video grab from an undated footage from the Internet shows Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden making statements from an unknown location. Bin Laden called on insurgent groups in Iraq to unify their ranks, in an audio recording aired by Al Jazeera television on Monday. REUTERS/REUTERS TV

A video grab from an undated footage from the Internet shows Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden making statements from an unknown location. Bin Laden called on insurgent groups in Iraq to unify their ranks, in an audio recording aired by Al Jazeera television on Monday.

Credit: Reuters/REUTERS TV

DUBAI (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden urged insurgents in Iraq to unite with his al Qaeda followers, admitting that wrongs had been committed because of fanaticism, according to an audio recording aired on Monday.

"The interest of the Islamic nation surpasses that of a group ... the interest of the (Islamic) nation is more important than that of a state," said a voice which sounded like the al Qaeda leader's in the tape carried by Al Jazeera television.

The recording was aired as Iraq's government reported violence had dropped by 70 percent since the end of June, following a series of U.S.-led offensives against insurgents.

Iraq's wing of al Qaeda is one of the key groups fighting U.S.-led forces and the Baghdad government, but bin Laden's followers have angered other Sunni groups and tribes through their hardline interpretations of Islam and indiscriminate killing of civilians.

In Anbar, a former insurgent hotbed where Sunni Arab tribes have joined U.S. forces against al Qaeda, there has been an 82 percent drop in violent deaths, the government said.

Bin Laden acknowledged that some insurgents were involved in "wrongdoings", mentioning a particular group of holy commandments that includes killings. He did not give further details.

"The mujahideen are the children of this nation ... they do right things and wrong things," bin Laden said. "Those who are accused of violations of God's commandments should face trial," he added.

"I advise ... our brothers, particularly those in al Qaeda wherever they may be, to avoid fanatically following a person or a group," he said. "The strength of faith is in the strength of the bond between Muslims and not that of a tribe, nationalism or an organization."

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In the recording, which Jazeera said was entitled "message to the people of Iraq", bin Laden mentioned battles in the province of Diyala, indicating that he made the remarks since the start of a U.S. offensive there in June.

He said he was addressing "mujahideen (holy warriors) in Iraq", Sunni Muslim militant groups fighting U.S.-led forces. Al Qaeda belongs to a school of Islam which regards members of Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority as heretics.

Jazeera said bin Laden urged Iraqi tribes to uphold their "tradition of resisting" occupation, in an apparent reference to the presence of British forces in Iraq in the last century.

The speaker urged "scholars, jihadist and tribal leaders to work for reconciliation between fighting groups".

He warned insurgents against enemy attempts to drive wedges between groups by planting agents among them, and said such agents should be punished, but only after their guilt was established through thorough investigations.

Last month, bin Laden issued three messages, including a video marking al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington in which about 3,000 people were killed.

Bin Laden said in the video that United States was vulnerable despite its power and insisted only conversion to Islam would end the conflict.

(Additional reporting by Firouz Sedarat)