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An image of Ayman al-Zawahri taken from a video released in Dec. 2007. ((IntelCenter/Associated Press))

The second-in-command of al-Qaeda said in an audiotape released Friday that five years of involvement in Iraq has brought the U.S. only defeat, and said President Bush will be forced to pass the problem to his successor.

Ayman al-Zawahiri alleged that by heeding advice of his top commanders in Iraq and guaranteeing a heavy American military presence after July, Bush was "covering up for the failure" of his Iraq policies.

"If the American forces leave, they will lose everything. And if they stay, they will bleed to death," he argued.

The authenticity of the 16-minute recording, posted on a website known for carrying Islamist militant messages, could not be independently verified. But it carried the logo of al-Qaeda's media wing and was the second recording to appear in April attributed to al-Zawahiri.

He called for Muslim support of jihad in Iraq, and for backing al-Qaeda's affiliate there, known as the "Islamic State of Iraq."

Al-Zawahiri also blasted Sunni fighters who switched sides and joined the American push to pacify Sunni areas of Iraq, the so-called Awakening Councils.

"Weren't these Awakening [Councils] supposed to hasten the departure of the American forces, or are these Awakenings in need of someone to defend them and protect them," al-Zawahiri asked.

There have been several bomb attacks in Iraq this week that appear targeted on pro-U.S. Sunni forces.

Al-Sadr 'toy in Iran's hands'

On the tape that appeared Friday, al-Zawahiri also slammed anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has ordered his militia to halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces. Al-Sadr "has become the laughing stock of the world" and is a "toy" in Iran's hands, he said.

Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born medical doctor, is generally seen as the chief strategist of al-Qaeda, behind the militant organization's main leader, Osama bin Laden.