Iraqi PM says U.S. should halt Koran burning

By Khalid al-Ansary

BAGHDAD (BestGrowthStock) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged the United States on Thursday to prevent the American pastor of an obscure Christian church from burning copies of the Koran in commemoration of the September 11 attacks.

The U.S. government and political and religious leaders around the world have condemned plans by Terry Jones, whose tiny Protestant church campaigns against what it calls “radical Islam,” to burn 200 copies of the Koran on Saturday.

Maliki said the event could become a pretext for killing.

“This ghastly action doesn’t fall within free expression and there must be an intervention to stop it,” the Shi’ite Muslim premier said during a meeting with U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and Lloyd Austin, the commander of American troops in Iraq, according to a statement issued by Maliki’s office.

“This will cause damage in the relations between religions, human and cultural communication between the nations, if it happens … It might be taken by the fundamentalists as a pretext to do more killings and counter-killing.”

Former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya political coalition launched a national campaign late on Thursday to hand out copies of the Koran in protest at the U.S. pastor’s plan.

“We want to tell this cleric that his behavior is wrong and we are preachers of peace. Churches still exist in Iraq and they are respected, along with other religious books,” Iraqiya member Fattah al-Sheikh said while handing out copies of the Koran at Firdous mosque in central Baghdad.

‘HE IS A DISBELIEVER’

Worshippers at the mosque who received copies of the Koran while breaking their fast said the cleric had to be stopped.

“We do not accept as Muslims for the Koran to be burned. This man is not a cleric. He is a disbeliever because all religions come from one source. If this man lived near me, I would stop him by force,” said Raad Abbas, 54, a government employee.

Shi’ite militia Kata’ib Hizballah said in a statement it would punish the United States in Iraq in response to the burning of the Koran.

“The crusader and zionist trumpets in America and Europe are disclosing their real identity and their hostile position to Islam and Muslims by conducting this disgraceful action,” it said.

The United States still has nearly 50,000 troops in Iraq despite a formal halt to combat operations on August 31. Their official mission is to advise and assist Iraqi security forces.

Iraq still faces a stubborn insurgency more than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

(Writing by Jim Loney and Serena Chaudhry)

Iraqi PM says U.S. should halt Koran burning