An American sniper was removed from Iraq after he used a copy of the Quran for target practice, the military said Sunday, a day after a U.S. commander held a formal ceremony apologizing to Sunni tribal leaders.
The elaborate ceremony _ in which one U.S. officer kissed a new copy of Islam's holy book before giving it to the tribal leaders _ reflected the military's eagerness to stave off anger among Sunni Arabs it has been cultivating as allies.
The tribesmen have become key in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq militants, who depict the American forces as anti-Islamic occupiers. One anti-U.S. Iraqi Sunni group condemned the Quran shooting, calling it "a hideous act." Similar perceived insults to Islam have triggered protests throughout the Muslim world.
Iraqi police found the bullet-riddled Quran with graffiti inside the cover on a firing range near a police station in Radwaniyah, a former insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, U.S. military spokesman Col. Bill Buckner said.
American commanders launched an inquiry that led to disciplinary action against the unidentified soldier, who has been removed from Iraq, Buckner said.
Members of the local U.S.-allied group said the Quran was found with 14 bullet holes in a field after U.S. troops withdrew from a base in the area.
Sheik Ahmed Khudayer al-Janabi, a local tribal leader, said the group had planned a protest march last Thursday but called it off under pressure from U.S. forces and to prevent any insurgent violence as retaliation.
The incident, which occurred on May 9 and was discovered two days later, was first reported by CNN, which broadcast a ceremony at which the top American commander in Baghdad apologized to tribal leaders Saturday in Radwaniyah. The military confirmed the details Sunday in an e-mailed response to a query.
"I come before you here seeking your forgiveness," Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond was quoted as saying at the ceremony. "In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers."
"The actions of one soldier were nothing more than criminal behavior," he added. "I've come to this land to protect you, to support you _ not to harm you _ and the behavior of this soldier was nothing short of wrong and unacceptable."
The problem with coming down hard on the soldier is this--it will drive the "conservative" American electorate crazy and will lead to outrage in communities that will then stage their own "shooting" of the Koran in order to support the soldier. The soldier should be disciplined and the matter should be dropped immediately. Making a "martyr" out of someone who did something stupid and immature accomplishes nothing. The apology has been delivered, and that should be enough. Kudos to the US Army for at least recognizing that they had to do something. Now is not the time to hand radical elements fodder for controversy, be they the radicals in the Middle East who hide behind Islam or the radicals in this country who hide behind Christianity and the Republican Party to further their own agendas.
Shooting the Koran was offensive because it wasted a perfectly good book and it was offensive to the sensibilities of the people who revere that book. When you are sent into a country to try and win the hearts and minds of the people over to a more peaceful way of settling their political differences, shooting their holy book is a frustratingly immature and stupid thing to do. It teaches no one about free speech to use the opportunity of making a statement to ruin a book with bullets and to write profanity in that book. It is just as wrong to shoot a Torah, a Bible, or any other book. It is a symbolic thing that wallows in the stupidity of the act. No one's mind is changed from shooting a book. Reading a book, on the other hand, is something this soldier should be asked to do, as in, reading the COIN manual, reading a book about basic tolerance for other religions, and reading a book about how to express oneself in a more mature and thoughtful manner. This is the kind of thing that sets small minds to twittering, and we need much less of that.