Mosul Mosques Preach Jihad Against Americans

It was Friday prayers at Haibat Khatoun mosque, and the imam faced worshippers to deliver a fiery sermon accusing American troops of insulting the Muslim holy book and trampling the honor of women.

"It's not enough for them to defile the land, they also wanted to defile God's book and then violate the sanctities of Muslims," the preacher shouted, his words carried into the street by loudspeakers. "The grandsons of monkeys and pigs, who don't know their mothers or fathers, trespass on the book of God!"

Moustafa Mohammed, a 19-year-old college sophomore squatting in the mosque, listened in anger and pain.

"Islam today is being humiliated," he said. "We ask God to make us victorious. They are hurting Muslims. ... It's horrible."

This northern city has been much safer for U.S. troops than Baghdad and the "Sunni Triangle" north and west of the capital. But even here, U.S. patrols draw fire, like the four attacks on American convoys Wednesday that killed three Iraqi civilians and wounded five soldiers.

Some mosques in Mosul (search) have become channels for anti-American rhetoric, drumming on Muslim resentments over perceptions of Western dominance and painting the occupation as a religious struggle.

While arguing that many clerics espouse pro-occupation views, American officials say they are keeping an eye on mosques that could be fueling resistance to the coalition administration. But they say local Iraqi authorities have removed only one imam in Mosul for anti-U.S. speeches.

American authorities tread lightly because any direct attempts to control mosques or interfere in what preachers say could lead to a backlash from Iraqis and increase perceptions of a religious war.

The preacher at Haibat Khatoun talked about an Oct. 21 incident in which U.S. soldiers sparked outrage when they tried to use a sniffer dog to search the handbag of a female employee at the Oil Ministry in Baghdad.

The woman's bag contained a copy of the Quran, and Muslims consider dogs to be dirty animals. Witnesses said that when the woman resisted the search, the soldiers threw the Quran on the ground and arrested her. Military officials have had no comment on the incident.

The imam also said "the forces of the infidels" went to arrest three people in the Khaldiya (search) area but took away their wives instead when they didn't find the men. In traditional societies like Iraq's, men's honor is linked to what happens to the women of their families.

"Oh brothers, the Muslims today ... have been humiliated and disgraced in their own homes," the preacher said.

Across the Middle East, Friday sermons are a traditional way of measuring popular sentiments. The faithful unite around mosques for guidance and support, especially in times of chaos and crisis.

A group of Sunni clerics in Mosul, the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (search), issued a statement Friday warning people against cooperating with U.S. forces.

"Beware of supporting the occupiers and know that contacting them, without a legitimate necessity, is sinful," it said.

Ironically, criticizing those in power is part of the post-Saddam Hussein changes; clerics weren't allowed to speak up against the regime of Saddam, whose security forces made sure religious leaders toed the official line and crushed any signs of Islamic fundamentalism.

At al-Shaheed Bashar Qalander mosque, Sheik Abdel Jawad Mohammed Safo said mosques have a responsibility to direct people and raise their awareness.

"I always stress that the people ruling over us are nonbelievers," he said. "We always say that this war is a religious war. ... It's a war between Arabs and Jews; America is a mere toy in the hand of the Jews."

Safo said his pulpit "is always one of jihad." Asked if that includes armed jihad, he answered: "Yes. We call for it in public, without any hesitation."

Lt. Col. Chester C. Egert, a chaplain with the 101st Airborne Division, said some imams also argue "that U.S. soldiers or coalition forces are causing decadence and a decrease in morality."

"Occasionally there will be during the calls for prayer, out of the minaret, there will be some type of call for an uprising against coalition," he said.

Egert said not all mosques are centers of opposition. He said many clerics support U.S. forces and urge worshippers to cooperate, while others don't venture into politics in their sermons.

"In general, I don't think the population is inclined to buy into jihad or fighting against the coalition," Egert said.

Saleh Khalaf, director of the office that oversees mosques and other places of worship, traces anti-U.S. sentiment to nonreligious sources.

"The talk of the preachers is a result of the social pressure in their areas," he said. "For instance, the neighborhood lacks services and there's a lot of unemployment. If these things are taken care of, I promise ... that 95 percent of the problems between the coalition forces and the people will be solved."