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Imams in Iraq denounce Quran shooting

  • Story Highlights
  • "We condemn and denounce the criminal act," Shiite imam says in Friday sermon
  • Sunni imam calls soldier "silly-minded American" who embarrassed leader
  • American staff sergeant had used a Quran for target practice in Iraq
  • Friday prayers most significant event of the week for Muslims
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Imams delivering their Friday sermons in Iraq are denouncing the shooting of a Quran, the holy book of Islam, by a U.S. soldier.

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Col. Ted Martin kisses a copy of the Quran before presenting it to tribal leaders Saturday.

"If we were strongly united from the beginning, that silly-minded American soldier wouldn't have used the Quran as a target," said Sheikh Ahmed Abdul-Ghafour al-Samarie, delivering a sermon at Um al-Qura Sunni Mosque in Baghdad.

The U.S. military and President Bush have apologized, but it did not stem the violent protests in Afghanistan and calls from both Sunni and Shiite Iraqis for the soldier to be severely punished.

Muslims around the world were angered when it came to light last week that an American staff sergeant -- a sniper section leader -- had used a Quran for target practice in Iraq.

Imams at mosques in the largely Sunni cities of Falluja and Mosul, and in Baghdad, condemned the act.

The Baghdad mosque prayer was broadcast live on state TV.

"This soldier put the head of his state in embarrassment that he had to apologize to the prime minister. We call upon this soldier to be punished. This act, we reject and we stand against it," al-Samarie said.

He said if a similar incident happened again, "the world will turn upside down and things will not go back to how they were." Video Watch residents of Baghdad protest »

Sayyed Muhanned al-Mossawi, a Shiite imam at al-Hakma mosque, said: "We condemn and denounce the criminal act by the American soldier in Radhwaniya in tearing the Holy Quran and using it as a shooting target."

Friday's prayer service is the most important Muslim event of the week.

The U.S. commander in Baghdad issued a formal apology Saturday and read a letter of apology from the shooter. Video Watch the U.S. military formally apologize »

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The sergeant has been relieved of duty as a section leader, officially reprimanded by his commanding general, dismissed from his regiment and reassigned to the United States, the U.S. military said.

Iraq's most powerful Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has demanded the "severest of punishments" for the American soldier.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Saad Abedine contributed to this report.

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