Nov. 20, 2004 – US soldiers and Iraqi National Guardsmen raided the Abu Hanifa mosque, a prominent place of worship located in the Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad called Al-Adhamiya. The soldiers, who assaulted the mosque while people were praying, left up to four Iraqis dead, wounded at least nine others and detained some 30 to 40 more.
Witnesses on the scene Friday gave news organizations conflicting casualty counts from the shootings inside the mosque. Accounts ranged from two to four dead and nine to twenty wounded. The New York Times reports that among the wounded was an Iraqi policeman who said he questioned the soldiersâ€™ prerogative to raid the mosque and that it was an Iraqi soldier who shot him.
An eyewitness told independent reporter Dahr Jamail by telephone on Friday that US troops and Iraqi guardsmen came into the mosque itself, and numerous eyewitnesses told news organizations that both Iraqi and American troops behaved erratically and pointed guns at worshippers throughout the raid.
Fridayâ€™s raid was at least the fifth staged on Abu Hanifa by the US military since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
It remains unclear whether Iraqi troops, American soldiers or both killed people at the mosque, but witnesses said a number of the wounded and dead sustained gunshot wounds to the head.
The raid came one week after a cleric at the Abu Hanifa mosque reportedly called on Iraqis to engage in a holy war against foreign occupiers and the interim Iraqi government and one day after a spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told reporters that imams who incite insurgency will be arrested.
Last Friday, at the height of this monthâ€™s bloody siege and assault on the Sunni city of Fallujah, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Samarrai directed a rhetorical question at Allawi during a sermon at Abu Hanifa. "What will you tell God on judgment day when someone points the finger at you and says, â€˜he took part in killing meâ€™?" Al-Samarrai challenged, according to Middle East Online.
On Thursday, Allawi spokesman Thair Al-Naqeeb told the Associated Press, "The government is determined to pursue those who incite acts of violence." He said that mosque clerics who incite people to kill police and national guardsmen are "participating in terrorism" and noted that several have already been arrested, though he said the exact number is secret.
One worshipper who soldiers had allowed to leave the mosque with his family recounted the ordeal to Jamail. "Why are they killing people for praying?" asked Abdul Raâ€™ad Aziz.
The Associated Press also reports that US troops raided a second Sunni mosque, in Qaim, a small village near the Syrian border. A cleric there called the raid retaliation, saying it was an American response to the mosqueâ€™s provision of food aid to the people of Fallujah. He also said the troops stole $2,000 earmarked for mosque repairs.
During previous raids at Abu Hanifa, American soldiers threw copies of the Qurâ€™an to the floor, kicked in doors and brutalized mosque staff. As The NewStandard reported in April, US Army soldiers raided the mosque during prayer, entering with their boots on, in violation of a strict Muslim custom. Witnesses said the troops used vehicles to destroy bags of foodstuffs intended for Fallujah, which was under attack by US Marines at that time as well.
Then, in May, the Abu Hanifa mosque was raided for a fourth time since the US-led invasion of Iraq. Two hundred worshippers were reportedly present at that time, and a scene similar to that in April ensued.
Today was the first time assault forces killed anyone at the mosque. Witnesses told Jamail that stains of blood and chunks of brain spattered the walls of the mosque today.
A man named Abu Numan, who said he has been praying at the mosque for 55 years and has witnessed two of the US raids, lamented the continued attacks. "Why? This is a holy place and the tomb of one of Islam's most revered figures," he told the Washington Post. "There should be some sanctity and respect for our shrines. This is unacceptable."