Baghdad; May 15, 2004 – At roughly 5 PM today, US soldiers used tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvees and dogs to seal off Abu Hanifa Mosque in the Al-Adhamiya district of Baghdad. They held an estimated 200 Muslims at gunpoint for the duration of the raid and kicked in the door to Imam Muad Al-Adhamyâ€™s office, as well as two more doors in the mosqueâ€™s inner Haram. Witnesses said the soldiers emptied a bookshelf of Qur'ans, spilling the holy books across the floor.
"They say they are searching for a killer in the mosque," said Hassam Aziz Abdul, while glaring at soldiers who walked dogs into the mosque. "But they want to destroy every holy place in my country."
Barely a month ago, on April 13, the US Army raided this important Sunni mosque during a weapons search, smashing several doors inside the adjacent college and shooting holes in walls and ceilings. They found no contraband. Todayâ€™s incident constitutes the fourth time Abu Hanifa Mosque has been raided by the occupation forces since the April 2003 invasion.
The repeated harassment of Abu Hanifa by occupation forces has left Iraqis to speculate as to the motives behind the raids. The people of Al-Adhamiya are well aware that Abu Hanifa has been a focal point of unification efforts between the two largest Muslim sects in Iraq. Combined Sunni and Shiâ€™ite prayer services have been held at the Abu Hanifa and other mosques in recent days. Many Iraqis believe the US wishes to keep Sunnis and Shiâ€™ites divided, just as Saddam Hussein did for decades of dictatorial rule.
Raâ€™ad Hussam Thamil, a 58 year-old man, who was praying inside the mosque when the soldiers arrived, said the crowd of 200 people was held at gunpoint for nearly an hour.
Raâ€™ad Hussam Thamil, 58, was praying inside the mosque when the soldiers arrived. He said the crowd of 200 people was held at gunpoint for nearly an hour.
"Two of the older men who have diabetes needed to use the toilet," he said, "but when they asked if they could go, they were not allowed."
Thamil and others expressed outrage that soldiers had entered the mosque with their boots on. For Muslims, wearing shoes or bringing dogs inside a holy place is strictly forbidden.
Another Al-Adhamiya resident and member of the mosque, Ali Rhassam Hammad, insisted the mosque is not involved in harboring resistance members. "The resistance here does not use the mosque. We are not Sadr," he stated, referring to the use of holy places by Muqtada Al-Sadr and his militia.
"Why are the Americans doing this to us?" Hammad asked while watching tank turrets swivel back and forth across the crowd of onlookers.
When a Western reporter tried to speak to a soldier about the raid in progress, the soldier aimed his gun at the journalist and waved him away.
The US troops withdrew from the mosque after about an hour, having found neither weapons nor the individual for whom they had informed mosque staff they were searching.
Abu Talat, another member of the mosque, said he felt despair over the behavior of the occupation forces toward the holy places in Iraq. He angrily watched the soldiers in front of the mosque. "How do you think this makes us feel?" he asked bitterly. "They are going into our holy place and walking with their boots over where we pray!"
Dr. Adnan Mohammed Salman Al-Dulainy, the director of all the Sunni Imams of Iraq, promptly came to the mosque to discuss the situation with Imam Muad and then delivered a powerful speech after the evening prayer.
"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 stated firmly to a crowd of several hundred people. "This is a humiliation to Muslims across the world. I challenge the Americans to show that we use this sacred mosque for fighting!"
Reached by telephone, the Public Affairs Officer at the Coalition Press Information Center said there was no statement available about the mosque raid.
In the Imamâ€™s office at Abu Hanifa, the elderly Dr. Al-Dulainy said, "Each time a problem is settled, another one comes along which is worse. Nothing in all my life has been as bad as this."
Dr. Al-Dulainy expressed his frustration from having attempted on numerous occasions to work with senior US officers. "I have been completely open and clear with the Americans about how they should behave in our holy places," he said, "yet they donâ€™t change how they treat our mosque."