BAGHDAD - Al-Qaida in Iraq branded the country's Sunni vice president a "criminal" for participating in the U.S.-backed government, and a suicide bomber Saturday struck army recruits west of Baghdad, 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 of attacks that left at least 74 people dead nationwide.
The verbal attack on Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was purportedly delivered by al-Qaida 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-Qaida 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.
The speaker also denied any clashes between al-Qaida and other "jihadist groups or our blessed tribes," saying reports to the contrary by U.S. and Iraqi authorities were only "lies and a desperate attempt to drive a wedge within the ranks of the jihadists."
Iraqi officials announced this week that al-Masri had been killed in an internal fight among al-Qaida 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 3-month-old Baghdad security plan, recounting the Apr. 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.
The attack cast heavy doubt about progress in the latest U.S.- Iraqi bid to clamp off violence in the capital. Iraq's al-Qaida front group claimed responsibility for the bombing.
"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.
Al-Zawahri also blamed Iraq's Shiite-Sunni violence on "individuals and groups in Iraq who do not want the coalition forces to leave" but claimed al-Qaida fighters in Iraq were "nearing closer to victory over their enemy, despite this sectarian fighting" that has convulsed the country.
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 dead included 10 recruits and five soldiers, officials said. Another 22 people were wounded.
Iraqi security forces are frequently targeted by Sunni insurgents who accuse them of collaborating with U.S.-led efforts to stabilize the country.
U.S. officials say a growing number of Sunni tribes are turning against al-Qaida, particularly in the western Anbar province, as they are repelled by the group's brutality and religious extremism.
The military has blamed the terror network for a series of recent car bombs and suicide attacks that have killed hundreds despite stepped up security in the capital.
Elsewhere, 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, with identity documents showing they were from the Sunni city of Ramadi.
At least 50 other Iraqi civilians were killed or found dead on Saturday, including three youths who died in a mortar attack while they were playing soccer in a southern Shiite enclave in Baghdad and two people killed when a bomb hidden under a car exploded in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Karradah in the center of the capital.
The bodies of 29 people who were apparently shot to death by so-called sectarian death squads also were found in Baghdad and other cities, including that of a Sunni surgeon who had been kidnapped three days ago in the northern city of Mosul
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, on a trip to Baghdad with other lawmakers, said Saturday that she is not convinced that the Iraqi leaders have a sense of urgency about achieving political reconciliation. She said she told Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the country's most powerful Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, that the Iraqi parliament should refrain from taking a recess this summer. "As we are doing the military surge, we should have a political surge by the government," Snowe said on a conference call with reporters. "They (U.S. troops) should not be on the front lines while the parliament is at recess for two months." Snowe said al-Hakim told her no decision had been made but he expected parliament to cut short its recess. AP-CS-05-05-07 1717EDT
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