BAGHDAD – Sunni preachers on Friday denounced the shooting of a Koran, Islam's holy book, by a U.S. sniper in Iraq despite a series of apologies by American commanders and U.S. President George W. Bush.
The use of Islam's holy book for target practice has triggered an angry response in Iraq and protests in Afghanistan even as U.S.-led forces are working 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 Muhammed and recently against the holy Koran," 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 Koran instead," Mohammed said. "Do not think this is a defeat for us, but it will crate 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 Koran 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.
Iraq has not seen any street protests over the Koran shooting, but a NATO soldier and two civilians were killed Thursday during a violent demonstration in western Afghanistan over the incident.
There has been relatively little protest in Muslim countries since the incident, however, despite fears of a repeat of the worldwide violence sparked by similar perceived insults against Islam in the past, 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 turned themselves into authorities after the resolution of a standoff involving three tribal leaders in Balad, 80 kilometers (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, without providing more specifics. 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 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 some 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.
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 they towed it to the compound, killing Muqadam Abdul-Jabbar, a policeman who was trying to dismantling it for further inspection, Hussein said.
Hussein said police arrested three suspected al-Qaida in Iraq militants after they found another car bomb, a Volkswagen, along with seven sticky bombs meant to be placed underneath vehicles during a raid on a house elsewhere in Fallujah.
Witnesses initially claimed it was a suicide car bomb driven by a rogue policeman, but Hussein denied that.
The violence was the latest in the area west of Baghdad that has 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.