Burning Qu'ran bad for US troops
Kabul - The top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan warned on Tuesday that an American church's threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book the Qur’an could endanger US troops in the country and Americans worldwide.
"Images of the burning of a Qu’ran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan, and around the world, to inflame public opinion and incite violence," General David Petraeus said in an email to The Associated Press.
His comments followed a protest on Monday by hundreds of Afghans over the plans by Florida-based Dove World Outreach Centre, an evangelical Christian church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy, to burn copies of the Qu’ran on church grounds to mark the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the US that provoked the Afghan war.
Muslims consider the Qu’ran to be the word of God and insist that it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad.
Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Qu’ran is deeply offensive.
In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Qu’ran in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk.
Newsweek later retracted the story.
‘Death to America’
At Monday's protest, several hundred Afghans rallied outside a Kabul mosque, burning American flags and an effigy of Dove World's pastor and chanting "death to America".
Members of the crowd briefly pelted a passing US military convoy with stones, but were ordered to stop by rally organisers.
Two days earlier, thousands of Indonesian Muslims had rallied outside the US Embassy in Jakarta and in five other cities to protest the church's plans.
Petraeus warned images of burning Qu’rans could be used to incite anti-American sentiments similar to the pictures of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Graib prison.
"I am very concerned by the potential repercussions of the possible (Qu’ran) burning. Even the rumour that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday (Monday)," Petraeus said in his message.
"Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."
Deliberate attempt to offend
The US Embassy in Kabul also issued a statement condemning the church's plans, saying Washington was "deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups".
Dove World Outreach Centre, which made headlines last year after distributing T-shirts that said "Islam is of the Devil", has been denied a permit to set a bonfire but has vowed to proceed with the burning.
A surge in troop deployments has brought the number of US forces battling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan to about 100 000 and Petraeus is asking for 2 000 more soldiers to join the 140 000-strong international force here, Nato officials said on Monday.
Coalition officials said nearly half will be trainers for the rapidly expanding Afghan security forces and will include troops trained to neutralise roadside bombs that have been responsible for about 60% of the 2 000 allied deaths in the nearly 9-year war.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to talk about the issue with media, said the Nato-led command had been asking for the troops even before Petraeus assumed command here in July.
Petraeus recently renewed that request with the Nato command in Brussels. The alliance has had trouble raising more troops for the war effort, with at least 450 training slots still unfilled after more than a year.
With casualties rising, the war has become deeply unpopular in many of Nato’s 28 member countries, suggesting the additional forces will have to come from the US.
In Europe, polls show the majority of voters consider it an unnecessary drain on finances at a time of sharp cuts in public spending and other austerity measures.