Bush apologises over Koran shooting

20/05/2008 - 14:57

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush has apologised to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and promised prosecution of a U.S. soldier accused of using a copy of the Koran for target practice, Iraq said on Tuesday.

Bush apologised in a telephone call on Monday with Maliki,who told him the incident had humiliated and angered Iraq'slargely Muslim population, the cabinet said in a statement.

"The American president apologised on behalf of the UnitedStates ... promising to present the soldier to the courts," itsaid.

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said that in the call Bushexpressed his deep concern over the "completely unacceptableconduct of an American soldier".

A U.S. soldier has been disciplined and sent home after abullet-riddled copy of the Muslim holy book was found at ashooting range near Baghdad on May 11. Tribal leaders alsoaccused the soldier of writing offensive language inside thebook.

U.S. military commanders in Iraq held a ceremony toformally apologise and present a new Koran to tribal leaders inthe area where the incident took place. The number two U.S.commander has also met Iraqi leaders to apologise.

The military has described the incident as "serious anddeeply troubling" and stressed that U.S. soldiers respect Islamand the Koran.

There has been no violent backlash in Iraq, as hassometimes occurred elsewhere in the Muslim world after theIslamic faith is perceived to have been insulted, but the Iraqigovernment has called for the soldier to be severely punished.

Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Bush'sapology was not enough.

"We need to try this soldier since he committed a grievouscrime. This is what the Iraqi government wants. It is notsatisfied with just an apology," he said.

The Iraqi cabinet said the U.S. military should alsoeducate its soldiers to respect Islam and Muslim holy sites.

The incident has been deeply embarrassing for the U.S.military, which has been working hard to improve its imageamong Iraqis and forge alliances with tribal leaders to fightSunni Islamist al Qaeda militants.

(Writing by Ross Colvin, additional reporting by AseelKami, edited by Richard Meares )

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