Video Shows Coalition Forces Didn’t Desecrate Mosque in Jan. 1 Raid

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample

Jan. 4, 2004 — Coalition Provisional Authority and military officials in Baghdad, Iraq, today showed reporters a video as proof that coalition and Iraqi security forces took extra care not to desecrate the holy site during a raid of a mosque Jan. 1.

Some media reported protests by angry Sunni Iraqis, who accused U.S. soldiers of ripping pages from the mosque’s Quran during a New Year’s Day raid at the Ibn Taymiyah mosque near the Iraqi capital. During the raid, coalition and Iraqi security forces uncovered a large cache of weapons and took 34 people into custody.

Coalition spokesman Dan Senor and Army Brig. Gen Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, told reporters the video gives "a better sense beyond words" of what happened during the raid.

The video shows coalition soldiers, as well as Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and Iraqi Security Forces, taking part in the raid. ICDC soldiers helped guard the suspects detained during the operation.

Kimmitt said the video also dispels claims that coalition soldiers mistreated the mosque’s sheik. Kimmitt said the leader was treated just like the rest of the detainees and was not assaulted in any way. In fact, Kimmitt told reporters, the entire operation was a fairly calm. "Everybody was very compliant during the entire operation," he said, adding that no weapons were fired at or inside the mosque.

Although the audio portion of the video is not heard, Kimmitt told reporters that before soldiers entered the mosque, those inside were repeatedly told, "to lie on their stomachs with their hands stretched out, and (to) stay away from any weapons."

He said that message was constantly being broadcast throughout the operation. "That was for the benefit of personnel inside the mosque, and the ICDC, who led the operation into the mosque," Kimmitt explained.

The video also shows soldiers rolling up and searching under rugs inside the mosque. Kimmitt explained that the coalition had intelligence that tunnels were hidden under the mosque, and soldiers were looking for entrances possibly hidden under the rugs.

Though no tunnels were found, the general said, soldiers did find weapons and ammunition being stored inside the mosque. Kimmitt said a "significant amount" of gunpowder was recovered during the raid, as well as hand grenades, detonation cords, TNT and several AK-47 assault rifles. He said the weapons and ammunition stockpile was large enough to fill two trucks, and was "clearly beyond what would be used for self-protection."

Senor told reporters the image of the weapons alone was the one thing struck him most about the video — not the fact that soldiers were in the mosque, but that "a holy site, a holy mosque, which is a place for free expression, was being used as an arms cache," he said.

"If there was anyone disrespecting the religious sanctity of a mosque, it was the individuals who were using it as a safe house for weapons and organizing of attacks," Senor said.

In addition, Kimmitt said the video shows that ICDC and coalition soldiers jointly taking detainees into custody. This was done, he said, "as a way of showing dignity and respect."

Kimmitt had said Jan. 2 that some of the 34 people detained might have been foreign fighters. And he told reporters today that the coalition still is trying to determine the nationality of some of those detained in the operation.

The general said about two-thirds of the detainees were released once they provided credible information that they were at the mosque for legitimate reasons and were not part of anti-coalition activities.

Senor said the coalition consulted with a number of Iraqis before releasing the video, and that during the operation, ICDC and Iraqi police were "fully integrated." Intelligence for the raid, he added, was based on information provided by Iraqi people.

Senor told reporters the video is evidence of increasing "handover of authority to the Iraqi people, and especially to Iraqi security forces."

"Today in Iraq there are more Iraqis in security forces, more Iraqis defending their own country than there are Americans in Iraq," the coalition spokesman said. "Iraqis are proud that they are on the front lines in securing their own country; they are proud that they are contributing to efforts that will capture or kill people who are trying to undermine the reconstruction in Iraq."

In other news, although three soldiers were reported as being killed in the past 48 hours, Kimmitt told reporters that the area of operations around Baghdad has been relatively stable. He said that over the past week, the average number of attacks against coalition forces has been about 22 per day. There is at least one attack per day against Iraqi security forces and civilians, he added.

Meanwhile, Kimmitt said, the military offensive and stability operations continue throughout the country. In the past 24 hours, he said, coalition and Iraqi forces conducted 1,560 patrol, 26 offensive operations and 17 raids, and captured 83 anti-coalition suspects.

In the northeast zone of operations, a cordon-and-search operation netted a targeted suspect in the July 24 ambush that killed three coalition soldiers. Another such operation in Mosul led to the capture of an associate of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and 11 other personnel, he said. Meanwhile, Senor said, the military is stepping up offensive operations to root out the financiers of the attacks against coalition forces.