Baghdad; Apr. 19, 2004 – According to witnesses, US troops recently raided and damaged an important Baghdad mosque and destroyed food aid gathered there for residents of Fallujah, a city currently besieged by other US forces.
Mr. Alber, a spokesman at the Abu Hanifa mosque in Adhamiya, explained that the US military raided the mosque during a search for weapons recently. Alber said the soldiers destroyed two gates of the mosque with tanks and drove a Humvee over three tons of food aid the mosque was stockpiling for Fallujah residents.
"On April 11 at 3:30am, US troops raided the mosque by using tanks to crash through the gate near the food storage area for the besieged people of Fallujah," Alber said. "The other gate a tank smashed through was over near the student dormitory and the martyrâ€™s cemetery."
Standing near decaying bags of foodstuffs that he said were ripped open by the Humveeâ€™s huge wheels, Alber stated that 40 soldiers entered the mosque while about 60 guarded the outside. Those inside went first into the main area of the mosque where people were praying and many Red Crescent volunteers from Kirkuk were resting before delivering more aid to Fallujah.
According to Alber, the soldiers entered with their boots on, made everyone stay on their knees with their faces down on the ground, and held guns to them.
He said, "I speak good English. I pleaded with the Americans to let us open all the doors for them so they wouldnâ€™t further damage our mosque. I was afraid of what this would cause in the people if they found out. But the Iraqi translator they had yelled at me, â€˜Silence! Shut your mouth!â€™"
This is the third time Abu Hanifa has been raided by US soldiers. The first time was exactly one year prior to the day of this most recent raid. The compound was also raided this past December.
Asked if the soldiers found any weapons, Mr. Alber and Ali Akbar, who works as a security guard at the mosque, said the mosque keeps only three Kalashnikovs, for security purposes. Witnesses insisted the search turned up no weapons of any kind among the tons of foodstuffs awaiting distribution.
Most of the doors of the college inside the mosque compound were smashed in near the locks, while bullet pockmarks were evident in the walls and ceiling.
Mr. Alber stated, "After two hours of being held with our faces on the ground and Americans putting their feet on people, the soldiers did not find one bullet. Then they simply left. A year ago they would apologize for these things. Now they have cancelled their apologies. Now they apologize by stomping on our necks!" Among Iraqis, the act of being stepped on is considered an extraordinary humiliation.
Alber said this is the third time Abu Hanifa has been raided by US soldiers. The first time was exactly one year prior to the day of this most recent raid. The compound was also raided this past December.
Kassem, a 54 year-old grandfather who works as one of the guards at the mosque, said a US soldier hit him in the forehead with the butt of an M-16 rifle when they were looking for weapons. He stated, "When I fell to the ground they kicked me! They came to humiliate the people of Islam. Why else? We have no guns here, no mujahedeen. They want to destroy the Islamic religion."
Alber added, "The managers of the US policy here are not clever people. When you come by terrorism, you create terrorism."
During Friday prayers at Abu Hanifa on April 16, the Imam told the entire story of what US soldiers had done the previous Sunday to all of the members of the mosque.
Along with recounting the story, he stated, "The Americans destroyed the gates of our mosque, our college, and food for our brothers in Fallujah." The loudspeaker boomed, "The Americans do not care about our holy places! What they are doing by entering our mosque and causing destruction is making things even worse than before!"
After the Imam finished speaking, the crowd within the mosque dispersed. Outside a member of the mosque who asked to remain anonymous said, "Nobody can accept this. The only thing they havenâ€™t done yet is rape our women in the street."
Another man who asked to be called Abu Fatman stated, "I have just come from Fallujah yesterday. The Americans are killing families there. US aircraft are bombing women and children in their houses when they attack."
The US military in Baghdad regularly conducts weapons searches throughout neighborhoods of the city. Recently, the military has been criticized heavily by Sunni Iraqis for their heavy-handed searches of holy sites.
Reached for comment about the April 11 incident, Coalition Press Information Center representatives offered no explanation.
The Abu Hanifa mosque, according to Professor Adnan Mohammed Salman Al-Dulainy at the Diwan Wakfa Sunni College in Baghdad, who is the leader of the Sunni in all of Iraq and in charge of every Sunni Imam in the country, is the primary Sunni mosque in the area. It is also one the most important Sunni mosques in Iraq, as well as one of the most important in all of the Middle East, says Al-Dulainy.