US marines accused of promoting Christianity

BAGHDAD (Agencies) - Thousands of supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrated in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq after Juma prayers to denounce a government deal with Washington on US troop levels. Followers of the anti-US leader brandished placards outside mosques in their Sadr City stronghold in the capital as security forces stepped up their presence there. A key member of the Sadrist movement, Sheikh Mohannad Al-Gazawi, denounced the proposed deal that will extend the US troop presence in Iraq beyond 2008. "This agreement binds Iraq and gives 99 per cent of the country to America," he said. In Kut, 175km south of Baghdad, hundreds of Sadrists staged similar demonstrations. In the southern city of Basra, the spokesman for the Sadr bloc in the Baghdad parliament, Nassar al-Rubaie, joined a protest there, correspondents said. Meanwhile, residents of Fallujah said that marines had been doling out the token-like coins to residents to promote Christianity. According to, the Iraqi's hand over their resident badges for authentication by a Marine at the Western Entrance of the city. According to the BBC, a report from McClatchy News Service carried a photo of a silver coin it said had been distributed in the Iraqi city. Written in Arabic script on one side of the coin were the words: "Where will you spend eternity?" On the other side, the news service said there was a Bible verse referring to Jesus: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16." According to residents of the city, the coins are a "humiliating" attempt to convert them from their own faith over to Christianity. "We say to the occupiers to stop this," said Sheikh Mohammed Amin Abdel Hadi. "This can cause strife between the Iraqis and especially between Muslim and Christians . . . . Please stop these things and leave our homes because we are Muslims and we live in our homes in peace with other religions." Sunni officials in the city also said the coins were given to Iraqis at an entry checkpoint and had biblical verses written on them in Arabic. On Friday, the US military said it was probing complaints that marines handed out coins inscribed with a verse in Arabic from the Bible to a group of Sunni Muslims in Iraq, sparking outrage among local residents. It said a marine involved in the incident in Fallujah west of Baghdad was removed from his duties on Thursday. "We can confirm that it is a marine who has been removed from his duties," the US military statement said. It stressed that handing out Christian coins was the action of a single soldier and that there was no collective drive to influence the local Muslim population. The general order to coalition forces also warns them that some local laws and customs prohibit or restrict certain activities which are generally permissible in western societies. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 11 suspected Al-Qaeda operatives who were hiding in a sheep truck near the northern city of Tikrit on Friday, the Defence Ministry said. The men were killed in fighting at a checkpoint between Tikrit and Baiji, ministry spokesman Maj-Gen Mohammed al-Askari said. In a separate incident in Tikrit, the US military said its troops shot dead a suspected Al-Qaeda weapons dealer and detained another man. Askari said a senior Al-Qaeda member Usama Khalil Ibraheem al-Ahtabi was also arrested in Mosul on Friday and a haul of weapons, ammunition and bombs had been seized.  In other violence, six people were killed in the restive province of Diyala north of Baghdad, Iraqi police said.In other incidents in the province, two roadside bombs killed a man and a child while unidentified gunmen shot dead a member of a US-backed anti-Al-Qaeda group.

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