BAGHDAD - US commanders moved swiftly to avert a crisis after a soldier deployed in Baghdad was found to have used a copy of the Koran for target practice.
The incident had the potential to inflame Muslim opinion against the US military and compromise the delicate alliance it has been forging with Sunni Arab communities against religious extremists.
Local leaders accepted an apology from senior US commanders, and the military said yesterday that the soldier responsible had been disciplined and pulled from Iraq.
Colonel Bill Buckner, a US military spokesman, described the incident as "serious and deeply troubling" but emphasized that it was an isolated case.
"This incident is not representative of the professionalism of our soldiers or the respect they have for all faiths," he said in a statement.
Iraqi police found the desecrated copy of the Muslim holy book on May 11 at a small shooting range near a police station in Radwaniyah, a mostly Sunni district on Baghdad's western outskirts, Buckner said. The volume was riddled with bullets and had graffiti inside the cover.
Community leaders were outraged and threatened to stop helping the US military fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, said Ayad Jabouri, a tribal leader and member of the country's largest Sunni political party. The US command ordered an immediate investigation.
The military did not release the soldier's name or detail how he would be disciplined, saying that the case was still being adjudicated. A CNN crew was present when Army Major General Jeffery Hammond, the commander of US troops in Baghdad, met Saturday with tribal leaders in Radwaniyah to offer an apology before a crowd of angry protesters.
"I am a man of honor. I am a man of character. You have my word, this will never happen again," Hammond was quoted as saying in the CNN report.
Jabouri said local sheiks had accepted the apology.
"The apology was very important to calm people down and convince them that not all soldiers, not all Americans, have the same opinion of Islam."