As U.S. forces fought the Shia forces of Muqtada Al- Sadr in the south, they broke into the Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad Saturday.
Amid moves by Shia and Sunni leaders to come together against the occupation, US forces have chosen to attack both at the same time.
US soldiers sealed off the Abu Hanifa mosque in the Al-Adhamiya district of Baghdad Saturday just as heavy fighting between US forces and the Mehdi militia of al-Sadr raged throughout southern Iraq.
They damaged several doors and threw copies of the Koran on the floor while conducting a search.
Dogs were brought into the courtyard of the mosque, further angering people in this predominantly Sunni area of Baghdad.
“They say they are searching for a killer in the mosque,” said Hassam Aziz Abdul, glaring at soldiers walking dogs into the mosque. “But they want to destroy every holy place in my country.”
US forces had last raided this mosque April 11. Declaring they were searching for weapons, they smashed several doors in the college attached to the mosque, and shot holes in walls and ceilings. The raid failed to produce any weapons.
This is the fourth time Abu Hanifa mosque has been raided by the occupying forces since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March last year.
Ra’ad Hussam Thamil, (58) says he was praying inside the mosque when the soldiers arrived. About 200 people were held at gunpoint in the mosque for nearly an hour, he said. “The soldiers were walking inside the mosque with their boots on.”
Spokesman for the mosque Salmam Alber said that in the April raid too US soldiers entered with their boots on, and ordered people to kneel at gunpoint with their faces down.
Kassem, a 54-year-old grandfather who works as a guard at the mosque said a US soldier hit him on the forehead with the butt of an M-16 rifle. “When I fell to the ground they kicked me,” he said. “They came to humiliate the people of Islam. Why else? We have no guns here, no mujahedeen. They want to destroy the Islamic religion.”
On Saturday, US forces withdrew within an hour after failing to find any weapons, or the person they had told guards they were searching for.
Abu Hanifa is the primary Sunni mosque in the area, says Prof Adnan Mohammed Salman al-Dulainy at the Diwan Wakfa Sunni College in Baghdad. Prof al-Dulainy is leader of the Sunnis in Iraq and in charge of all Sunni Imams in the country. “It is also one the most important Sunni mosques in Iraq, as well as one of the most important in all of the Middle East,” he said.
Prof al-Dulainy visited the mosque after the raid to discuss the situation with Imam Muad al-Adhamy. He delivered a strong speech to express his outrage at the US military raids on mosques.
“I call on all of the Arab and Muslim leaders throughout the world to condemn these actions, and to show their frustration about these despicable acts,” he said. “This is a humiliation to Muslims across the world. I challenge the Americans to show that we use this sacred mosque for fighting.”
Prof al-Dulainy said he had tried several times to work with US commanders. “I have been completely open and clear with the Americans about how they should behave in our holy places, yet they don’t change how they treat our mosque.” He had protested strongly after the April raid as well.
“So many Imams have been arrested,” he told IPS in his office later. “It is over 70 Sunni Imams now. We call on all peaceful people to raise their voices to demand the release of these men.”
Prof al-Dulainy says several mosques have been attacked by occupying forces, and Imams and people at prayer killed. “This has increased instability in Iraq,” he said. “It has planted hatred in peoples’ hearts towards the Americans.”
The new raid on Abu Hanifa adds to the rage Iraqis have been feeling over the damage to the holy Imam Ali mosque in Najaf.
Coalition Press Information Center representatives declined to comment on the raid.
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