A US soldier has been sent home after shooting at a copy of the Koran during target practice near a village outside Baghdad in an act that enraged local tribesmen and prompted the US military to issue an apology.
Iraqi police found the book riddled with bullet holes at a shooting range near to the village of Radwaniya a week ago. Graffiti had also been scrawled on the inside cover, a US military spokesman said today.
Colonel Bill Buckner described the incident as “serious and deeply troubling”. An investigation was immediately launched.
“Coalition commanders have since briefed local leaders on the results of the investigation and expressed their deep regret,” the spokesman said in a statement. “They have also undertaken disciplinary action against the soldier who was involved and he has been removed from Iraq.”
Apologetic commanders visiting the village yesterday, however, were met by hundreds of protestors shouting: “Yes, yes to the Koran” and “America out, out”, according to CNN, which posted footage of the demonstration on its Web site.
Major-General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of US forces in Baghdad, apologised for the behaviour of the soldier.
“I come before you here seeking your forgiveness,” the commander was quoted as telling tribal leaders at an apology ceremony that was also filmed by the US television network. “In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers.”
Major-General Hammond also read from a letter of apology written by the soldier who fired the bullets. His name has not been released.
“I sincerely hope that my actions have not diminished the partnership that our two nations have developed together. My actions were shortsighted, very reckless and irresponsible, but in my heart [the actions] were not malicious.”
Colonel Buckner stressed that the US military respects Islam and the Koran, noting that the incident “is not representative of the professionalism of our soldiers”.
It was unclear whether the soldier who fired the bullets would face further disciplinary action after arriving in the United States.