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Sunni preachers denounce Quran shooting by sniper
IRAQ AL SADR BAG101 4946778
Iraqis hold posters of a radical anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr after prayers in the city of Kufa, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, May 23, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    BAGHDAD — Sunni preachers on Friday denounced the shooting of a Quran, Islam’s holy book, by a U.S. sniper in Iraq following a series of apologies by American commanders and President Bush.
    The use of Islam’s holy book for target practice has triggered an angry response in Iraq and protests in Afghanistan as U.S.-led forces work to maintain their alliance with Sunni Arabs who have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq.
    ‘‘The enemies of Islam have launched their campaign against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad and recently against the holy Quran,’’ said Sheik Omar Mohammed during his sermon at a Sunni mosque in Baghdad.
    ‘‘A bullet that might have shot at an Iraqi believer, was directed toward the holy Quran instead,’’ Mohammed said. ‘‘Do not think this is a defeat for us, but it will create enthusiasm to stand up more for this religion.’’
    The U.S. military said Sunday it had disciplined the sniper and removed him from Iraq after he was found to have used the Quran for target practice May 9. Iraqi police found the bullet-riddled book two days later on the field of a firing range in a predominantly Sunni area west of Baghdad.
    Bush apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the incident after several U.S. military officials tried to soothe anger over the shooting, particularly among Sunni Arabs who have become key allies in the fight against insurgents.
    A NATO soldier and two civilians were killed Thursday during a violent demonstration in western Afghanistan over the incident. But there has been relatively little protest in Muslim countries despite fears of a repeat of the worldwide violence sparked by similar perceived insults against Islam, including Prophet Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark.
    The imam of Abu Hanifa, the main Sunni mosque in Baghdad, also condemned the shooting and criticized the leaders of fellow Muslim states for not speaking out against it.
    ‘‘We Muslims condemn the act committed by this malicious person and at the same time we express our regret that Muslim leaders all over the world did not condemn this crime ... it indicates their weakness and cowardliness,’’ Sheik Dawood al-Alusi said.
    Separately, the U.S. military said more than 140 suspected insurgents surrendered to authorities after the resolution of a standoff involving three tribal leaders in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. American officials said it was a significant step toward reconciliation in the area that has been one of the hardest to control in Iraq.
    The surrenders came after a series of raids that resulted in the deaths of three individuals, the military statement said. More details were not immediately available, but the area has seen significant fighting between U.S.-Iraqi forces and al-Qaida in Iraq.
    Two bombings also struck the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, a city 40 miles west of Baghdad that has seen a sharp decline in violence since local Sunni leaders joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.
    A roadside bomb targeted U.S. Marines on a foot patrol at about 9:25 a.m. in the area, killing an Iraqi interpreter and wounding six Marines, the military said. An Iraqi police official said two policemen also were wounded in the attack.
    A policeman also died when an explosives-laden car blew up at a government compound in Fallujah, a city in Anbar province.
    Police chief Col. Faisal Ismael Hussein said the GMC vehicle was discovered inside a garage near the city’s entrance after police got a tip that two car bombs were in the city.
    Officers didn’t find anything in an initial search, but it exploded after being towed to the compound, killing Muqadam Abdul-Jabbar, a policeman who was trying to dismantling it for further inspection, Hussein said.
    In a raid on another house in Fallujah, police arrested three suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants after the discovery of a Volkswagen rigged as a car bomb and seven sticky bombs typically placed under cars to make them explode, Hussein said.
    The violence raised concerns al-Qaida in Iraq-led insurgents are trying to regroup and chip away at security gains brought on by a Sunni revolt against the network that began in Anbar.
    Associated Press writer Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.

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