Al-Qaeda in Iraq warned in an Internet statement on Monday in reply to remarks by Pope Benedict XVI that it will wage jihad (holy war) until the West is defeated.
"We say to the servant of the cross (the pope): wait for defeat... We say to infidels and tyrants: wait for what will afflict you. We continue our jihad.
We will not stop until the banner of unicity flies throughout the world," said the statement attributed to the Mujahedeen consultative council.
The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.
"We will smash the cross... (you ill have no choice but) Islam or death," it added, citing a hadith (saying of the Prophet Mohammed) promising Muslims they would "conquer Rome... As they conquered Constantinople".
The statement concluded: "The pope in the Vatican turns in the orbit of (US President George W) Bush. His remarks form part of the mobilisation for a crusade announced by Bush, to raise the morale of the crusader armies."
Two other armed groups in Iraq, Jaish al-Mujahedeen (the Mujahedeen's Army) and Asaeb al-Iraq al-Jihadiya (League of Jihadists in Iraq), have already threatened the Vatican with reprisals in statements posted on Islamist Internet websites.