Zawahiri challenges Bush to send the 'entire army' to Iraq

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The Independent Online

Al-Qaida's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri has mocked President George Bush's plan to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, challenging him ­ in a new videotape ­ to send "the entire army" and vowing insurgents will defeat them.

The Washington-based Site Institute said it had intercepted the video, which had not yet been posted on Islamic militant websites, where messages of that type are usually posted.

The news comes at the end of a day of sectarian killing which claimed as many as 88 lives in the dilapidated second-hand clothes market of Baghdad.

It was the deadliest attack in Iraq so far this year and the scale of the carnage ­ victims for the most part were poor, working-class Shias ­ was numbing.

Al-Zawahri said the US strategy for Iraq, outlined by Bush in a speech on 9 January, was doomed to fail.

"I ask him, why send 20,000 [troops] only ­ why not send 50 or 100 thousand? Aren't you aware that the dogs of Iraq are pining for your troops' dead bodies?" al-Zawahri said in an excerpt of the video. "So send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the mujahideen (holy warriors) to free the world from your evil," he said, "because Iraq, land of the Caliphate and Jihad, is able to bury 10 armies like yours, with Allah's help and power."

The video showed al-Zawahri, wearing a white turban, in front of a black backdrop.

The message was the first reaction from al-Qaida's leadership to the new Iraq strategy. The US has said the extra troops aim to crack down on al-Qaida fighters and other Sunni Arab insurgents in Iraq, as well as Shia militiamen blamed in the country's spiralling sectarian violence.

A renewed campaign of sectarian killing claimed as many as 88 lives in the dilapidated second-hand clothes market of Baghdad, when Sunni insurgents showed their defiance of President George Bush with a series of mortar attacks and bombings.

Earlier, as the sound of gunfire and bombs echoed across the city during the Shia religious holiday of Ashura, American soldiers began leaving the security of their bunkers to set up new bases in some of the most violent areas of the city. The first to reach Baghdad comprised 3,200 troops of the 82nd Airborne, all part of President Bush's "surge" of troops with which he hopes to pacify the city.

Shortly after noon, a double car-bomb ripped through stalls of vendors who eke out a living selling DVDs and second-hand clothes in Bab al-Sharqi market in one of the busiest parts of Baghdad. Seconds afterwards, a suicide carbomber drove headlong into the crowd, sending clouds of acrid smoke over the entire area.

The charnel house left behind by the bombers was filmed by an insurgent who was spotted by members of the Iraqi army, chased down and shot dead. According to an Iraqi police official, the filmmaker was Egyptian and the film was destined to be made into a propaganda DVD for Sunni insurgents.

The devastating blasts left pieces of bodies scattered across the wreckage of the market place, which was at its busiest when the bombers struck. The market is also a transportation hub and was packed with hundreds of people going to and from work.

A photographer with AFP news agency described seeing so many victims that the bodies of the wounded were piled alongside the bodies of the dead on wooden market stalls.

Five hours later, a second attack took place at Baquba, to the north-east of the capital. Police described how a bomb hidden in a vegetable cart exploded in the heart of the market.

Just a few minutes later, a missile was fired into the area, causing further deaths.

Ali Hussein 47, a biologist was heading home when he was knocked off his feet by the Baghdad explosion."Bottles of perfumes and deodorants were flying in the air like small rockets," he told a New York Times reporter.

Elsewhere in Iraq yesterday, insurgents went on the attack against security forces and other officials. The Sunni mayor of Baquba was kidnapped and had his office blown up.

The Bush administration is convinced that a rapid increase in military force will put the insurgents on the run, encourage political settlements and dampen down the civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, condemned the attacks, saying: "Those terrorists who committed this crime think in their bloody attitude that killing a large number of citizens will lead to breaking the Iraqi people's will and tearing apart its unity."

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