Sunday, May 18, 2008

US soldier in Iraq uses Koran for target practice

US military commanders have apologised to community leaders in Iraq after a US soldier used a copy of the Koran for shooting practice.

Bloody protests have sometimes broken out across the Muslim world when the Islamic faith has been insulted.

The swift apology by the US commanders appeared aimed at avoiding similar violence in Iraq.

The US military said overnight the soldier, who was not identified, had been disciplined and ordered to leave Iraq after a copy of the Muslim holy book was found riddled with bullet holes at a shooting range near Baghdad on May 11.

Pictures obtained by Reuters showed the holy book with at least 10 bullet holes.

The incident is deeply embarrassing for the US military, which has been working hard to forge alliances with Sunni Arab tribes to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq.

It has credited such alliances with helping to sharply reduce violence in the country.

An Iraqi community leader said the apology by senior American military commanders had helped calm tensions.

"I was feeling bitterness, but as long as they apologised we are OK with them. Our anger has cooled," said Saeed al-Zubaie, the head of a US-allied Sunni Arab tribal council in the Radwaniya area.

He said Sunni Arab tribal units who work alongside US forces in the area had threatened to quit unless the military took action.

The US television news network CNN said Major General Jeffery Hammond, the commander of US troops in Baghdad, and other officers were met by hundreds of protesters when they went to Radwaniya to deliver the apology on Saturday.

"I am a man of honour, I am a man of character. You have my word this will never happen again," Maj Gen Hammond said.

Colonel Bill Buckner, a US military spokesman, described the shooting incident as "serious and deeply troubling".

The US military relies heavily on Sunni Arab tribes as part of its strategy to crush Al Qaeda, the Sunni Islamist group it blames for most major suicide bombings in Iraq.


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