Britain's decision to "flee" Iraq shows the insurgency is stronger than ever, Al-Qaeda's number two said Sunday, after British forces transferred security control in Basra province to the Iraqis.
In a 98-minute Al-Qaeda videotape with English subtitles, Ayman Al-Zawahiri said recent reports from Iraq reveal "an increase in the strength of the Mujahideen and deterioration in the Americans' conditions, despite their desperate attempts to deceive and mislead.
"And the decision of the British to flee is sufficient" proof, Zawahiri said in a video clip provided to AFP by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private US company that tracks Jihadist activities.
Al-Qaeda released the videotape to jihadist forums Sunday, according to SITE.
Iraq formally took security control of the southern oil province of Basra from British forces Sunday, paving the way for Britain to sharply reduce its nearly 5,000-strong troop presence.
Basra, the ninth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be returned to local control by the US-led coalition, is the fourth and final province under British control since the 2003 invasion to be transferred.
Zawahiri however said that in his view Iraq is the world's foremost arena for Jihad and that "the condition of the Iraqi Jihad is -- overall -- excellent."
He said US claims of progress, including in the September 2007 report to US Congress by top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador to Iraq,
Ryan Crocker, are "empty propaganda meant to cover up the American failure in Iraq."
He urged Muslims in several countries to join, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya, and Algeria, where Al-Qaeda claimed a twin-car bomb attack last week that left at least 34 people dead.