WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush called Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to apologize after an American soldier riddled a Koran with bullets near Baghdad, the White House said Tuesday.
Bush "apologized for that in the sense that he said we take it very seriously," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters.
"We were concerned about their reaction, we wanted them to know that the president knew that this was wrong, and that the commanders in the field had publicly reprimanded the soldier and removed him from Iraq," she added.
Bush "was glad that our military took immediate action."
Earlier Tuesday Maliki's office said in a statement that the Iraqi leader "expressed resentment and anger of the people and the government of Iraq and the American president George W. Bush apologized to the Iraqi people."
It said Bush had promised to send to trial the offending staff sergeant, who has since been expelled from his unit in Iraq and sent home to face disciplinary action over the March 11 incident west of Baghdad.
But Perino said "the military would have to decide what course of action would take place."
In Baghdad the Iraqi cabinet condemned the unidentified soldier's action and asked Maliki to impress on coalition member states to ensure that their troops in Iraq respected the Islamic religion, its beliefs and values.
The cabinet also called for the "harshest punishment" for the soldier who riddled the Muslim holy book with bullets and wrote an expletive inside.
US military authorities have already apologized to the local community west of Baghdad. They described the incident as "as both serious and deeply troubling," but stressed it was an "isolated incident and a result of one soldier's actions."
On Saturday the top US commander for Baghdad, Major General Jeffrey Hammond, met with local leaders, issuing an apology and promising strict disciplinary action against the offender.
Perino said a general also presented a new Koran to Sunni tribal chiefs "as a gesture of how seriously we took the issue and that we certainly respect their religion and we would never condone such behavior."
However, the Sunni Muslim Iraqi Islamic Party headed by Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on Monday demanded government action against the soldier.
The desecration of the Koran was also strongly condemned by the Association of Muslim Scholars, which claims to represent more than 3,000 mosques, and which held both the US military and Iraqi government responsible.
It said the "heinous crime shows the hatred" that the US military and American leaders had for the Koran and the Muslim people.
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