May 18, 2005 – Iraqâ€™s new defense minister, Sadoun Al-Dulaimi, announced Monday that the countryâ€™s transitional government had ordered its army and security forces to stop raiding mosques and arresting clerics, a practice that has terrified worshippers and inflamed religious tensions between Sunni and Shiâ€™ite Muslims.
In making the announcement, Al-Dulaimi, a Sunni who fled Saddam Husseinâ€™s rule in 1990, said, "The holy places must not be violated by the security forces, nor religious leaders arrested, and that will not happen anymore." Al-Dulaimi said the order applied to Christian churches and college campuses, as well as Sunni and Shiâ€™ite mosques and shrines.
Al-Dulaimi did not say whether the order was also directed at US and other foreign forces, under whose command Iraqi personnel typically operate. US troops have themselves also raided and attacked Iraqi religious sites on numerous occasions.
The US militaryâ€™s stated policy is to raid religious sites only when insurgents use them as battle positions, according to the New York Times.
But, as The NewStandard reported last November, US soldiers and Iraqi National Guardsmen raided the Abu Hanifa mosque, a Sunni place of worship in Baghdad, while unarmed people were praying, killing up to four Iraqis and wounded at least nine others. That was the fifth raid on the popular mosque since the US-led invasion in 2003. At least most if not all such raids reportedly met no resistance and yielded no arms or known suspects.
US forces have also attacked Sunni mosques in Fallujah and Ramadi, saying insurgents were using the religious sites as firing positions or bases of operation. During battles last summer with rebels loyal to Shiâ€™ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, US and Iraqi troops raided Shiâ€™ite shrines in Najaf, causing major damage.