( AP ) - Al-Qaida's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri warned of "traitors" among insurgents in Iraq and called on Iraqi Sunni Arab tribes to purge those who help the Americans in a new videotape posted Monday on the Web.
Al-Zawahri's comments were aimed at undermining so-called "awakening councils" - the groups of Iraqi Sunni tribesmen that the U.S. military has backed to help fight al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies.
Some Sunni insurgent groups have fought alongside American forces, and the U.S. military has touted the councils as a major factor in reducing violence in war-torn regions like Iraq's Anbar province.
In the 90-minute video, al-Zawahri warned of the "presence of hypocrites and traitors among the ranks of the mujahedeen working and fighting for the Americans."
The mujahedeen "must throw out the bribe-taking collaborators from among their ranks, those who sold out their faith and fight under the banner of the cross. They must expose them to the Muslim world," al-Zawahri said. "Those who support the Americans are despicable scum," he said, calling on the "noble tribes of Iraq, those that defend Islam, to stand up to this scum."
"The tribe or clan that does not cleanse itself of traitors and apostates will be remembered in history for generations as one of the collaborators and traitors," he warned. "But any clan or tribe that defends Islam and crushes traitors ... will be remembered in Arab history with pride and glory."
The video was made in the form of an interview of al-Zawahri by Al-Sahab, the media arm of al-Qaida. Al-Zawahri - wearing a white turban and robes - sat in front of shelves of Islamic theology and law books, answering questions from an unseen interviewer.Earlier this month, the Islamic State of Iraq - the insurgent coalition in Iraq linked to al-Qaida - announced a new campaign against members of awakening groups.
The founder of the awakening movement, Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed in a bombing in September in Ramadi 10 days after meeting President Bush at a U.S. base in Anbar. Fifteen people were killed that same month when a suicide bomber struck a U.S.-sponsored reconciliation of Shiite and Sunni tribal sheiks.
At the same time as the awakening councils have arisen, the Islamic State of Iraq has faced disputes with other insurgent groups that continue to fight the Americans and accuse al-Qaida of trying to intimidate their fighters into joining the al-Qaida linked alliance.
In an October message, al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden called on Iraqi insurgents to unite and avoid dangerous "extremism" in their allegiances to their factions. Bin Laden said all groups - including al-Qaida in Iraq - should admit mistakes and resolve differences.
Al-Zawahri on Monday took a tougher stance, saying that insurgents should focus on purging "traitors" rather than making accusations against the Islamic State of Iraq.
"The mujahedeen should end their disputes by turning to scholars to judge between them by Islamic Sharia law," al-Zawahri said.
"I can't say any side is innocent or guilty in a case where I haven't heard both sides. But I say the Islamic State of Iraq is not guilty of having a political ideology that allows the slaying of innocents," he said.
"Even if we suppose that the accusations are true, is the Islamic State the only one that has made mistakes?" he said. "Most importantly, do the acts that it and other jihadi groups are accused of reach the level of ... other groups that have collaborated with the Americans and fought alongside them?"
Al-Zawahri said the Americans have failed in Iraq and will withdraw soon.
"The reports from Iraq tell of the growth of the mujahedeen and the collapse of the Americans' circumstances," he said.
"The American forces are defeated and looking for a way out. Their government is faced with an incredible popular demand to withdraw," he said, adding that the U.S. forces would abandon Iraqi troops "to their fate."
"No matter how much the gigantic propoganda machine in America tries to deceive the people, the reality is stronger and worse than all the deceptions," al-Zawahri said.
The U.S. general responsible for the ground campaign in Iraq said Sunday that violence in the country is at its lowest levels since the first year of the American invasion, which began in 2003.