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Iraqis Protest US Raid on Mosque - 2004-01-02

Angry protesters at a mosque in Baghdad have called for jihad, or holy war, against American troops after they raided the mosque late Thursday. U.S. military leaders say the troops found a large stash of weapons and explosives at the mosque, and arrested 32 people who may be connected to insurgent activity.

Hundreds of angry protesters chanted anti-American slogans at a Baghdad mosque that was raided by American troops on Thursday. They called for a "holy war" and chanted America is the enemy of God.

The protesters and several Muslim clerics accused the raiding troops of desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Quran, by ripping pages out of it and stomping on it as they searched the mosque.

The deputy chief of military operations in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, strongly denied that the troops did any such thing.

"Despite the clear use of this mosque for criminal, terrorist and anti-coalition activities, the greatest care was taken by coalition forces to uphold the sanctity of the mosque and to use the minimal amount of force necessary to conduct the operation," he said.

General Kimmitt called the mosque a hub of anti-coalition activities. He says troops found a large arms cache, including five sticks of a high explosive known as PE4, three packages of dynamite, three bags of gunpowder, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 11 AK-47s and a mortar tube.

The general says coalition troops and Iraqi security forces detained 32 people in the raid, including some who are believed to be foreigners. Their nationalities have not been determined, and the military is not sure whether they have ties to foreign terrorist organizations.

Religious leaders at the mosque say many of those arrested were members of a special council recently formed to coordinate the Sunni Muslim community. They are demanding the release of the clerics, and they accuse the coalition forces of trying to undermine Sunnis.

But General Kimmitt accused a senior religious leader, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Zobai, of carrying out terrorist and criminal activities at the mosque.

Worshippers and Sunni clerics at the mosque insisted there were no weapons inside, and they condemned the raid as a desecration of their holy mosque.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition says storing weapons inside civilian sites such as mosques, hospitals and schools is a tactic long used by Saddam Hussein's feared Fedayeen militia, as well as other terrorist groups around the world.