June 5, 2008 - BAGHDAD -- The U.S. military suspended a Marine on Thursday for distributing coins quoting the Gospel to Sunni Muslims, an incident that has enraged Iraqis who view it as the latest example of American disrespect for Islam.
The Marine, stationed in the western city of Fallujah, handed out silver-colored coins this week that said in Arabic: "Where will you spend eternity? (John 3:36)." The other side read: "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 (John 3:16)."
"We are sorry for this behavior," said Mike Isho, a U.S. military spokesman in Anbar province, which includes Fallujah. He said the Marine, whom he did not identify, distributed only a few of the coins and that the episode was under investigation.
"This incident doesn't represent the morals of the Marines," he said.
Mohammed Amin Abdel-Hadi, the head of the Sunni Endowment in Fallujah, an institution responsible for overseeing the sect's mosques, criticized U.S. troops, whom many in the city view as occupiers, for acting like Christian missionaries. He said the coins were part of a pattern of insensitivity toward Muslims, citing the outcry this month over a U.S. sniper in Baghdad who used a Koran, Islam's holiest book, as a target for practice.
"We demand the Americans leave us alone and stop creating religious controversies," Hadi said. "First, they shot the Koran, and now they come to proselytize inside Fallujah."
Mohammed Jassim al-Dulaimi, 43, said a Marine forced one of the coins into his hand Tuesday morning as he passed through a checkpoint at the western entrance to Fallujah. He said he was shocked when he read it.
"The claims that the occupation is a Crusader War make sense now," Dulaimi said.
Police were placed on high alert and deployed around Fallujah's mosques. Officials feared violence after Friday prayers, when imams are expected to rail against the distribution of the coins and the shooting of the Koran, said police Capt. Ahmed al-Jumaili. He added that U.S. troops had reduced their presence on the streets of the city.
A U.S. statement referred to the coin incident as "an allegation" and said "appropriate action" would be taken if the claim was substantiated.
"Regulations prohibit members of the coalition force from proselytizing any religion, faith or practices," said Col. Bill Buckner, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. "Our troops are trained on those guidelines before they deploy."
The controversy over the coins, which was first reported by McClatchy Newspapers, came as a suicide bomber killed at least 16 people in front of a police station in northern Iraq.
Source: Washington Post