After US army’s prompt apologies for shooting of the Quran by a US soldier stationed in Iraq failed to calm down this potentially explosive situation, President George Bush has stepped in and offered apology to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
According to the White House press secretary Dana Perino, the president apologized during a videoconference with the Iraqi Prime Minister, who told the president that the shooting of Islam's holy book had disappointed and angered both the Iraqi people and their leaders. "We are concerned about the reaction. We wanted them to know that the president knew that this was wrong," Perino added.
President Bush’s apology came after US army commanders’ apologies failed to defuse the situation. Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, met with tribal leaders in Radwaniyah, where this incident happened, on Sunday to apologize while another American officer kissed a copy of the Quran before presenting it to the chiefs.
On Monday, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, paid visits to Prime Minister al-Maliki as well as Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the leader of the most powerful Sunni group in Iraq, and parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, to express regret over the incident.
Tellingly, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, told CNN that he was demanding a guarantee from the U.S. military to inflict the maximum possible punishment on the soldier so it would be a deterrent for the rest of the soldiers in the future. "It is a dangerous case. We had been silent and accepted the killing of our sons, the destruction of our homes and the theft of our money, but we do not accept insults to the holy Quran," he stressed.
The desecration of the Qur'an was also strongly condemned by the Association of Muslim Scholars, which represents more than 3,000 Iraqi mosques. It said the "heinous crime shows the hatred" that the US military and American leaders had for the Quran and the Muslim people.
Omar Abdul Sattar, a prominent political leader, compared this latest incident to cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad which were published in a Danish newspaper in 2005. The images provoked an international outcry from Muslims. Sattar said it is not a matter of disciplining just the Soldier, but taking a larger look at the issue.
Similarly, a speech on behalf of Radhwaniya tribal leaders, Sheikh Hamadi al-Qirtani called the incident "aggression against the entire Islamic world."
The U.S. military said Sunday that it had disciplined the sniper and removed him from Iraq after he was found to have used the Quran for target practice on May 9 in a firing range in Radwaniyah, near Baghdad. The Quran was found two days later by Iraqis on a firing range in Radwaniyah with 14 bullet holes in it and graffiti written on its pages.
The American military has described the incident as as both serious and deeply troubling, but stressed it was an isolated incident and a result of one soldier's actions.
The Quran shooting is the latest and the most serious known incident of desecrating Muslim holy symbols in Iraq by American troops, according to AFP. Since the 2003 US-led invasion, there had been several accusations against the US soldiers of attacking and defiling mosques.
In November 2004, the killing of nearly 40 unarmed Iraqis inside a mosque in the northern city of Fallujah by a US marine battalion prompted widespread international condemnation.
There was uproar when US soldiers attacked Ibn Taimiyah Mosque in Baghdad in January 2004. In this incident American troops smashed down the front gate and ripped up the carpets. They had also thrown several Korans on the floor and allegedly punched the man giving the call to prayer in the face. Al-Jazeera TV showed images of the damaged Korans.
In March 2006 – US raid on Mustafa mosque in north-east Baghdad's Sadr City killed about 20 people and drew sharp criticism.
According to McClatchy-Tribune, how American forces treat the Quran has been a recurring source of complaint dating back to the earliest days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and reports about them have triggered angry outpourings throughout the Muslim world, including riots in Afghanistan in 2005 that left at least 17 dead.
In this charged back drop, President Bush’s apology indicates that the Administration is taking the issue of shooting of the Quran very seriously since such incidents only inflame the anti-American sentiments in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
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