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Osama bin Laden's growing anxiety

He's struggling to direct fewer and fewer followers.

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In yet another sign of trouble for Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden publicly conceded that his like-minded militants in Iraq "made mistakes." In an audiotape broadcast by Al Jazeera this week, he sounds deeply anxious about the survival of Al Qaeda in Iraq – a group that is largely independent of his own organization but adheres to a similar ideology. Al Qaeda's top leader appealed to Sunni Arab tribes and other armed Iraqi Sunni groups to stop fighting Al Qaeda members and unite against the real enemy – the US-led coalition.

Al Qaeda in Iraq faces growing indignation from fellow Sunni Iraqis fed up with its indiscriminate killing of civilians and its Taliban-like religious laws. In the past year, Sunni tribes and fighters have risen against Al Qaeda's branch in Iraq and, working jointly with US troops, killed and expelled scores of its militants from their neighborhoods, particularly from Anbar Province. Besieged both internally and externally, Al Qaeda in Iraq struggles to survive and absorb these catastrophic military setbacks.

Coming to the rescue of his followers in Iraq, Mr. bin Laden lays his personal authority and credibility on the line. In a rare moment of self-criticism, he advises "himself, Muslims in general, and brothers in Al Qaeda everywhere to avoid extremism" and put the interests of the (universal Muslim community) above those of tribe, party, and nation.

True to form, bin Laden stops short of saying exactly who speaks for the and how the interests of this imagined can override those of separate nation states and special groups.

Never before had bin Laden, ambitious and media-savvy, gone so far in airing Al Qaeda's dirty linen in public. In the past, he and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had privately advised chiefs of Al Qaeda's wing in Iraq against fueling sectarian war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and imposing their extremist ways on Iraqis. But their pleas didn't fly.

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