London, Dec.18: The deputy leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahri, has said the British decision to "flee" Basra shows that the Iraqi uprising is growing in strength. In a video interview released less than a day after British forces formally handed control of Basra to local security forces, Zawahri predicted that the withdrawal of UK and US troops would lead to the "collapse" of Iraqi security forces.
According to the Daily Record, with the handover of Basra, no Iraqi province now remains under British control, and the path is now clear for a full British withdrawal from Iraq. Troop numbers in the country are to be slashed to just 2,500 by next spring. In the 90-minute video interview with al-Sahab, al Qaida's media arm, al-Zawahri said the "US propaganda machine" was trying to deceive public opinion.
"(But) the most recent reports which have come in from Iraq tell of an increase in the strength of the mujahideen and a deterioration in the Americans' condition despite their desperate attempts to deceive and mislead, and the decision of the British to flee is sufficient," he said.
He also denounced Sunni tribes in Iraq, calling them "traitors". Basra is the last of the four provinces over which UK forces had responsibility for security after the 2003 invasion to come fully under Iraqi control.