US military apologises after soldier shoots Koran

Senior commanders apologised to community leaders in the Baghdad area, after an allied Iraqi militiaman found a Koran that had been used for target practice by an American soldier. The soldier has been disciplined.


BAGHDAD - U.S. military commanders have
apologised to community leaders in Iraq after a U.S. soldier
used a copy of the Koran for shooting practice, fearing an
outburst of anger among U.S.-allied tribesmen.

Bloody protests have sometimes broken out across the Muslim
world when the Islamic faith has been insulted. The swift
apology by the U.S. commanders appeared aimed at avoiding
similar violence in Iraq.

The U.S. military said on Sunday 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 U.S. 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 told Reuters 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,
head of a U.S.-allied Sunni Arab tribal council in the Radwaniya
area near Baghdad where the Koran was found.

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

The U.S. television news network CNN said Major-General
Jeffery Hammond, the commander of U.S. 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," Hammond told the crowd, CNN

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

The U.S. 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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