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Al-Qaeda's 'mild' message to Obama

By Frank Gardner
BBC Security Correspondent

Barack Obama - 7/11/2008
Mr Obama wants to use Islamic moderates to counter al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda in Iraq have reacted to the US presidential election by issuing a statement on Friday directed at President-elect Barack Obama and his incoming administration.

The 22-minute audiotape was posted on several jihadist internet websites and includes an audio message from Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, the pseudonym adopted by the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq.

The US military said on Friday that al-Baghdadi was "an actor who provided a voice for al-Qaeda's propaganda".

The statement issued in his name calls on the incoming US administration and allied Western leaders to embrace Islam, withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and release Muslim prisoners from there and from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Compared to previous statements issued by the group this one is relatively mild, imploring America to return to what it calls "impartiality" and even offering not to disrupt Western oil supplies if its conditions are met.

"We promise that we will not stop the trading of oil or other commodities with you, provided that justice is achieved," the audio message said.

'Public relations'

Al-Qaeda's affiliates in Iraq have suffered major setbacks in recent months, having been largely driven out of their former strongholds in central and western Iraq by a combination of US firepower and, more significantly, a tribal uprising by predominately Sunni Iraqis who rejected al-Qaeda's extreme brutality.

Those who wrote the latest statement will have probably been under no illusions that their appeal to withdraw US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to be ignored.

Iraqi awakening council members in Baghdad - file photo
Iraq's Sunnis have helped curb al-Qaeda attacks

But analysts believe it is aimed at public relations, specifically at boosting al-Qaeda's standing in advance of an expected future withdrawal of US troops from Iraq so the group can later claim to have "expelled them".

Unlike in the US presidential election in 2004 when the al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden appeared to be trying to influence the result by calling on US voters to reject the policies of President Bush, al-Qaeda was noticeably silent in the run-up to 4 November.

This prompted many of its supporters to hope the silence would be explained by a devastating repeat of the 9/11 attacks.

When none materialised, participants in jihadist internet forums went on to call for new attacks on America, saying that Barack Obama will be "captain of a sinking ship".

'Obama's dogs'

Very few online al-Qaeda sympathisers have expressed any optimism that US policies will change under the future President Obama.

"We are not interested in who's won because they all follow the same strategy which is a war against Islam and Muslims," says one.

"Muslims in Waziristan, Pakistan and Afghanistan must brace themselves," says another. "Obama's dogs will be preparing to fight you even harder soon."

Some have remarked on Mr Obama's appointment of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff as "evidence of a pro-Israeli bias," saying he will "suck up to the Zionist lobby".

Other hardliners have greeted Barack Obama's election victory with a stream of racist and other insults.

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