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Marine removed from duty over Bible coin reports

  • Story Highlights
  • Iraqis say Marine passed out coins featuring Bible verses written in Arabic
  • One coin reportedly asks, "Where will you spend eternity?"
  • Military spokesman condemns act, promises that appropriate action will be taken
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine in Iraq has been removed from duty amid complaints that he was handing out coins with Bible verses at an American checkpoint, the military said Thursday.

A military spokesman said Iraqis in Falluja complained that the Marine was giving the coins, which were printed in Arabic, to people at an entry control point in Falluja.

U.S. military regulations prohibit religious proselytizing.

"This has our full attention," said Col. James L. Welsh, chief of staff of Multi-National Force, West. "We deeply value our relationship with the local citizens and share their concerns over this serious incident."

At least one of the coins is stamped with the words "Where will you spend eternity?" according to a report published Thursday by McClatchy Newspapers.

The other side of the coin reportedly contains a verse from John 3:16 that reads, "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."

Several Falluja residents said they were given the coins over a two-day period and complained that U.S. troops, whom they consider foreign occupiers, were acting as Christian missionaries.

"Regulations prohibit members of the coalition force from proselytizing any religion, faith or practices," said Col. Bill Buckner, a coalition spokesman. "Our troops are trained on those guidelines before they deploy."

A military statement said "appropriate action" will be taken if the reports are substantiated.

The reports stoked religious concerns in Iraq just weeks after Iraqi police discovered that a U.S. soldier had used the Quran, Islam's holy book, for target practice.

The U.S. commander in Baghdad took the unusual step of holding a public ceremony and reading a letter of apology from the soldier, a sniper section leader, to local Iraqi leaders.

Many in attendance were members and leaders of Sunni militias that the U.S. military has courted to help fight al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents. Sunnis often face criticism from other Iraqis for cooperating with American troops.

Falluja, also a mostly Sunni city, was the scene of bitter and bloody fighting early in the Iraq war between U.S. troops, al Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni insurgents loyal to Saddam Hussein.

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