BAGHDAD - Al-Qaeda in Iraq branded the country's Sunni vice president a criminal for participating in the U.S.-backed government, and a suicide bomber struck army recruits west of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 15 people in another warning to Sunnis not to cooperate with the Shiite leadership.
The suicide attack in the mostly Sunni town of Abu Ghraib was the deadliest in a series that left at least 74 people dead nationwide.
No group claimed responsibility for the Abu Ghraib attack, which occurred when a bomber walked into an Iraqi army recruiting center in the predominantly Sunni town and blew himself up amid a crowd of recruits, police said.
The oral attack on Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was purportedly delivered by al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, in an audiotape posted on an extremist Web site only days after Iraqi authorities claimed he had been killed.
During the 21-minute speech, the al-Qaeda leader criticized al-Hashemi as "this criminal" who "relentlessly calls" for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq. Al-Hashemi has resisted calls by fellow Sunni leaders to quit the Shiite-dominated government.
Iraqi officials announced last week that al-Masri had been killed in an internal fight among al-Qaeda members; they could not produce a body, and U.S. officials said they could not confirm the report.
The audiotape - the first word from al-Masri since his reported death - was posted on a militant Web site, and appeared to be a clear warning to Sunnis against cooperating with the Shiite-dominated government.
Hours later, a video was released showing Osama bin Laden's deputy mocking the nearly three-month-old Baghdad security plan, recounting the April 12 suicide bombing at the Iraqi parliament cafeteria in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, when a bomber slipped through security and blew himself up amid lunching lawmakers, killing one Sunni legislator.
"And lest Bush worry, I congratulate him on the success of his security plan, and I invite him on the occasion for a glass of juice, but in the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament in the middle of the Green Zone," Ayman al-Zawahri said, according to the Washington-based SITE Institute, which monitors militant statements.
A suicide car bomber tore through a police station in western Baghdad, killing a policeman. The bullet-riddled bodies of five policemen dressed in civilian clothes were found late Friday in a deserted field north of Baghdad.
At least 50 other Iraqi civilians were killed or found dead yesterday, including three youths who died in a mortar attack while they were playing soccer in a southern Shiite enclave in Baghdad
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine), said yesterday on a trip to Baghdad with other lawmakers that she was not convinced that the Iraqi leaders have a sense of urgency about achieving political reconciliation. She said she told the head of the country's most powerful Shiite political party that the Iraqi parliament should refrain from taking a recess this summer.