Bin Laden urges Muslims to join Iraq battle

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DUBAI, Oct 23 (Reuters) Osama bin Laden called for fighting to be intensified against US-led forces in Iraq and made a plea to Muslims in the region to join the battle, in an audio recording posted on the Internet today.

The Saudi-born militant leader also called for a holy war against peacekeepers in Sudan and Western forces in the Arabian Peninsula, where thousands of US troops are based.

''Where are the soldiers of the Levant and the reinforcements from Yemen? Where are the knights of Egypt and the lions of Hejaz (region in Saudi Arabia)? Come to the aid of your brothers in Iraq,'' said a voice which closely resembled the al Qaeda leader's.

Parts of the audiotape, posted as a video carrying a still photograph of bin Laden and English subtitles, were aired by Al Jazeera television yesterday. The tape was produced by As-Sahab, al Qaeda's media arm, and posted on Islamist Web sites. It carried the date of the lunar month that began in mid-October.

US and Iraqi officials say many insurgents and suicide bombers in Iraq are from neighbouring Arab countries.

''Increase (the enemy's) disarray and strike further at their necks and hit them with bone-cutting swords,'' bin Laden said.

''The Crusaders' flag-bearer (US President George W Bush) has increased his troops, claiming that he will defeat the soldiers of faith, so be steadfast.'' Addressing Iraq's Sunni Muslims -- Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen -- bin Laden also urged Arab tribes to join insurgents and offer them aid and shelter in their fight to oust occupiers.

Bin Laden urged Muslims to drive out foreign forces from other Muslim countries in the region and take up arms against rulers who facilitate their presence.

''It is the duty of Muslims in Sudan and ... the Arabian Peninsula to wage jihad against the crusader invaders,'' he said.

In a section of the recording aired on Monday, bin Laden had urged Sunni insurgents to put aside differences and unite with his al Qaeda followers, admitting that ''mistakes'' had been made.

The recording came amid Iraqi government reports of a sharp drop in violence, following a series of US-led summer offensives against insurgents, and reports of clashes between al Qaeda and tribesmen and domestic Iraqi jihadist groups.

Reuters AK VP0235

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