BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq - The most-wanted insurgent in Iraq vowed in an audio message posted yesterday on the Internet to continue waging holy war against Americans, but also acknowledged that a top guerrilla leader had been killed in combat against U.S. forces.
The 75-minute message, purporting to be from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, appeared on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and hours before President Bush delivered his inaugural speech in Washington.
Even as Bush spoke of bringing freedom to oppressed countries, and as violence continued to ripple across Iraq in advance of the Jan. 30 elections, al-Zarqawi asserted that the holy war "could last months and years."
"In the fight against the arrogant American tyrant who carries the flag of the cross, we find that despite its military might, it is being crushed emotionally and morally," al-Zarqawi said, according to a translation from Reuters. "Our battle with the enemy is a battle of streets and towns, and has many tactical, defensive and offensive methods. Fierce wars are not decided in days or weeks."
The audio message could not be immediately authenticated. Al-Zarqawi has posted similar messages on the Internet at other key moments, such as right after the U.S. offensive in Fallujah in November.
In the message yesterday, his longest so far, al-Zarqawi said his top military aide, Omar Hadid, who was also on the Americans' most-wanted list, had died in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah after helping to kill U.S. troops.
A prominent tribal leader from Anbar province, which includes Fallujah, said Saturday that he had heard Hadid had been killed but that he had no confirmation.
The Americans are offering a $25 million reward for the capture or death of al-Zarqawi, who has pledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden subsequently declared al-Zarqawi his deputy in Iraq.
Al-Zarqawi's group, al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, formerly known as One God and Jihad, is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds killed in ambushes, bombings and executions, including beheadings, many videotaped for public dissemination.
U.S. officials say they expect al-Zarqawi and other insurgent leaders to step up the pace of violence as the elections for a 275-seat constitutional assembly at the end of the month draw closer.
A U.S. military spokeswoman and a British security company said yesterday that a Briton and an Iraqi security guard were killed and that a Brazilian working for one of South America's largest construction companies was kidnapped Wednesday in a roadside ambush north of the capital.
In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, insurgents fired six artillery rounds into residential areas, U.S. Marines said. It was unknown whether any civilians were wounded. Ramadi is the scene of some of the toughest urban combat of the war, with insurgents attacking U.S. bases in the city and regularly firing at the government center along the main street.
In the embattled northern city of Mosul, guerrillas tried to overrun a hospital but were repelled by Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military said. The attack, on Al Salam Hospital in eastern Mosul, forced hospital workers and patients to flee.
The roadside ambush north of Baghdad took place near the oil refinery city of Bayji, south of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. The area is rife with insurgents, and the oil and electricity infrastructure there is the target of frequent assaults.
In the ambush, the victims were attacked while riding in a convoy near a power station where they worked, according to a statement from Janusian Security Risk Management, a company based in London that has operated in Iraq since April 2003. The Briton and the Iraqi were working for Janusian, which declined to disclose their names.
The Brazilian worked for Odebrecht, a construction company based in Sao Paulo. His captors have not made any public demands.
Attempts to kidnap foreigners have surged after a drop in November, during the bloody U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah. The abductions are often organized by criminal gangs that try to sell the victims back to their countries or employers or to resistance groups that are politically motivated. A French journalist kidnapped in Baghdad in early January is still missing, while an archbishop taken this week in Mosul was released within a day without any ransom having being paid, the Vatican said.
The Chinese government said it was negotiating to free eight Chinese workers who were abducted recently in the Sunni Triangle and were seen in a videotape released Tuesday by insurgents. Their captors are demanding that the Chinese government take a position on the war in Iraq.
The assault near Bayji took place the same day that insurgents sowed fear across the capital, setting off at least five car and truck bombs that the U.S. military said killed at least 26 people.