Friday, January 02, 2004

"America is the enemy of God" 

Reuters brings us the story of a U.S. Army raid on a Baghdad mosque, in which weapons were seized and the raid, predictably, was denounced by worshippers and the imam.

"American soldiers entered the mosque with their shoes on and with machine guns in their hands," the imam, Abdulsatar al-Janabi, told Reuters, adding the raid had lasted five hours.

"They trampled on the holy Koran, beat up some of the worshippers and stole computers and a donations box," he said. Others claimed that a page was torn from the Koran.

Protesters screamed and cried, chanting: "God is great" and "America is the enemy of God".

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. military spokesman, said U.S. troops had conducted the operation after a tip off from Iraqis and netted a wide array of weaponry to be used against occupying forces facing a relentless insurgency.

Good for 1st Armored Division. I'm all for respecting the sanctity of places of worship, but if you hide weapons in one, and the U.S. Army comes looking for them, then the mosque was defiled long before the soldiers arrived. However, with my little bit of time spent in a Muslim country (and my one visit to its Grand Mosque), I can see a couple of problems that should have been expected. First, Friday is the Muslim holy day. This raid is the equivalent of walking, heavily armed, into a Christian church on Sunday in the middle of the pastor's sermon, asking everyone to leave, and then poking around the place in search of contraband. In other words, it's the worst possible timing. Secondly, there's the issue of weapons, and of the soldiers keeping their boots on. I wouldn't want any American commander to disarm his men in such a situation, but could some compromise be made on the footwear? It's common practice in the Arab world to remove footwear before entering a home, or especially a mosque. It's a matter of respect for any non Arab/Muslim visitor to do the same.

I don't know if any of these things were considered. They may well have been, although the timing of the raid is still extremely suspect. (I do, however, seriously doubt that anyone was beaten up or that soldiers "trampled on the holy Koran" and tore pages from it.)

Remember, we're on their side. We need Iraqis to feel as if our goals are their own. We're trying to build trust. Busting into a mosque in the middle of the holy day is not how we do that, however fruitful the search may have been.

UPDATE: CNN provides a little more detail on the fruits of the raid:

Kimmitt called the mosque a "hub of anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi activities" and the scene of insurgency cells' meetings.

He said confiscated weapons included high explosives, TNT, blasting caps, gunpowder, grenades, detonation cord, artillery primers, rocket launchers, mortar tubes and sights, AK-47 rifles and ammunition. Soldiers also found materials for making the small bombs regularly used to target coalition convoys, he said.

UPDATE 2: Juan Cole says, "Still, the US Army could have done itself a favor here by just sending in Iraqi police to do this job and not having GIs invade a mosque."

Great idea.
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