Bush apologises over Koran shooting

20/05/2008 - 17:59

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. soldier was disciplined and sent home after abullet-riddled copy of the Muslim holy book was found at ashooting range near Baghdad on May 11.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino saidBush had raised the issue with Maliki "of one of our soldiershaving used a Koran absolutely inappropriately" and expressedconcern and regret over the incident.

Asked if it constituted an apology, she said: "I think youcould take it that way."

Bush had noted that the soldier had been reprimanded andremoved from Iraq, she said. She did not say whether Bush hadpromised the soldier would be prosecuted.

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.

(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami in Baghdad and JeremyPelofsky in Washington; Writing by Ross Colvin; editing byRalph Boulton)

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