U.S. removes soldier from Iraq after he defaces Quran

BAGHDAD_A U.S. Army soldier was removed from Iraq after he shot a Quran full of bullets and marked it with graffiti, the U.S. military announced Sunday.

U.S. military officials, fearing a backlash as a result of the desecration moved quickly to resolve the case after Iraqi police found the desecrated book May 11 at a shooting range in the predominantly Sunni Muslim area of Radwaniya in western Baghdad.

They briefed tribal leaders on their investigation and expressed regret for the damage to the Quran, the Islamic holy book.

So far, there has been no public outcry over the desecration.

"This incident is not representative of the professionalism of our soldiers or the respect they have for all faiths," said Col. Bill Buckner.

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.

The U.S. military has said, however, that most reported incidents of Quran desecration did not happen, though they have acknowledged five incidents where the Quran was mishandled at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for suspected terrorists.

The U.S. military would not specify the exact course of disciplinary action they would take against the soldier and did not identify him.

Some Iraqi politicians were dismissive of the incident while others were angered, calling for harsh punishment.

"If you ask any Iraqi, they are sad, but there is no organized reaction," said Mithal al Alusi, an independent secular Sunni lawmaker. "We don't need to push it into the center of our problems now or into the middle of the Iraqi-American dialogue."

Alusi called the soldier an "American idiot" but said "you also have Iraqi idiots." There are more pressing issues to discuss between Iraqis and Americans, he said.

Omar Abdul Sattar, a politician with the main Sunni Tawafuq bloc, said the soldier's actions were an act of "recklessness."

Sattar 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.

"Some people have no aims but to provoke others," he said. "We consider it not only a shameful action, but a barbaric one."

Sattar said it is not a matter of disciplining just the soldier, but taking a larger look at the issue.

"Assailing the holy Quran is an issue of sovereignty and the government should step up," Sattar said. "This is a single incident. We will study the issue and we may take a position on this in the parliament to prevent such actions from occurring again."

Jalal al Din al Saghir, a lawmaker from the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, said the incident made a "mockery" of the Quran which "doesn't send the right message to Iraqi people."

He called for a stiffer penalty against the soldier.

"The U.S. is a country that supposedly respects all religions and beliefs..." he said. "This incident is not representative of the general behavior of the U.S. forces in Iraq, but we demand U.S. leaders take a stance that will remedy the situation."

(Ismail reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa contributed to this report.)