Osama bin Laden has endorsed the successor of slain militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an Internet posting and he warned Shiites in Iraq against collaborating with the United States in its fight against Sunni insurgents.
Al-Qaeda's number one, in his fifth message this year posted on Saturday and his second in two days, threw his support behind Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, tipped earlier by the terror network as the replacement for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who the US military killed on June 7.
The message came as Iraqi Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki started a regional tour seeking support from Sunni Arab countries for his national reconciliation plan.
Although no date was given for the message, it was probably made after June 12, when al-Qaida announced that Abu Hamza al-Muhajer was the new head of its operations in Iraq.
However, the authenticity of the recording could not be immediately verified.
"I pray to God to make him (al-Muhajer) the best successor to the best predecessor," bin Laden said.
He urged him to step up "the struggle" to transform Iraq into the centre of an Islamic Caliphate.
In his warning to Iraqi Shiites, he referred to them indirectly as "sons of the south" where they live in the largest numbers.
"We say that many sons of the south (of Iraq) cannot just take part with America and its allies in invading Falluja, Ramadi, Baqouba, Mosul, Samarra, Qaem and other (Sunni) cities and villages, and expect that their areas will be safe from a reaction and harm," he said.