Al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a videotape aired Friday by Al-Jazeera that the United States' recent decision to withdraw some troops from Iraq represented an Islamic victory.
Al-Zawahri, wearing a white turban and gray robe and seated next to an automatic rifle, waved his finger for emphasis as he spoke in the two-minute excerpt aired by Al-Jazeera satellite network.
"You remember I told you more than a year ago that the American withdrawal from Iraq is only a matter of time, and here they are now ... negotiating with the mujahedeen," al-Zawahri said.
"Bush was forced at the end of last year to announce that he will pull out his forces from Iraq, but he was giving excuses for his withdrawal that the Iraqi forces have reached a good level."
Al-Zawahri apparently was referring to comments last month by U.S. Defense Secretary &to=http://english.pravda.ru/world/2003/01/27/42558.html' target=_blank>Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said President George W. Bush had authorized new troop cuts below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of last year.
Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the cut, but the Pentagon said the reductions would be about 7,000 troops, about the size of two combat brigades. The Pentagon has not announced a timetable for troop reductions, but indications are that the force could be cut significantly by the end of this year.
"I today congratulate (the Islamic nation) and bless the Islamic victory in Iraq," al-Zawahri said.
Bush has not offered concrete details about bringing troops home but said on Wednesday that "possible adjustments" would be discussed with Iraqi leaders if progress continued on security and political efforts.
Negotiations are underway on the use of airfields in Cuba, Venezuela and Algeria. South Africa, Syria and Egypt are likely to join the list