Monday, April 4, 2011

U.S General Petraeus Says Florida Pastor Burning Quran Has Endangered War Efforts

The Wall Street Journal
KABUL—The Quran burning by a Florida church, which sparked three days of deadly rioting in Afghanistan, poses new dangers for the U.S.-led war effort against the Taliban, coalition commander U.S. Gen. David Petraeus warned in an interview.

Gen. Petraeus, who commands some 150,000 U.S. and allied troops here, spoke after Afghan rioters angered by reports of the sacrilege sacked the United Nations compound in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing seven foreigners, and went on a lethal rampage in the southern city of Kandahar, waving Taliban flags.

The deadly rioting, which the Taliban say erupted spontaneously, has shocked the international community and highlighted the vulnerability of the embattled Afghan government. Urban mob violence against Western targets adds a disturbing new threat in a country that is fighting a mostly rural insurgency, and where foreign and local security forces are ill-prepared for riot control.

"Every security force leader's worst nightmare is being confronted by essentially a mob, if you will, especially one that can be influenced by individuals that want to incite violence, who want to try to hijack passions, in this case, perhaps understandable passions," Gen. Petraeus said in the Sunday interview. "Obviously it's an additional serious security challenge in a country that faces considerable security challenges."

Back in September, when Terry Jones of the World Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., first announced his intention to burn Islam's holy book, Gen. Petraeus publicly urged the preacher to abandon the plan, saying it would be exploited by the Taliban and endanger the lives of American soldiers. Rev. Jones's church shelved the idea at the time. But then he reversed course and his church held a "trial" of the Quran and incinerated the book in a videotaped ceremony March 20.

"This was a surprise," Gen. Petraeus said. The Quran burning in Florida, he added, was "hateful, extremely disrespectful and enormously intolerant."

Protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in Jalalabad province Sunday. Around 1,000 people blocked the main highway from Kabul to Jalalabad and burned U.S. flags, driven by anger at the actions of militant Christian preacher Terry Jones, who supervised the burning of a copy of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida on March 20, according to his website.Gen. Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and other Western envoys Sunday met President Hamid Karzai to discuss the security crisis caused by the Florida incident. While Gen. Petraeus said he had no doubt that Mr. Karzai is taking the situation seriously, some Western officials have complained that the Afghan president himself has exacerbated the tensions with his pronouncements on the issue.

Most Afghans learned about the Quran burning in Florida only when Mr. Karzai on March 24 condemned the act as "a crime against the religion and the entire Muslim nation," called on the U.S. and the U.N. to bring the perpetrators to justice and demanded "a satisfactory response to the resentment and anger of over 1.5 billion Muslims around the world."

Following Sunday's meeting with Gen. Petraeus and the ambassadors, Mr. Karzai requested in a new statement that "the U.S. government, Senate and Congress clearly condemn [Rev. Jones'] dire action and avoid such incidents in the future." Mr. Karzai issued this demand even though President Barack Obama has already described the Quran burning as "an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry"—adding that "to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity."

Friday's protest march on the U.N. compound in Mazar-e-Sharif followed a fiery sermon by government-paid clerics in that city's main mosque. By Saturday, however, demonstrators in Kandahar chanted "Death to Karzai" in addition to "Death to America." Nine Afghans were killed and more than 80 injured in Kandahar on Saturday, as protesters attempted to march on the U.N. officers there; shootouts erupted as they were stopped by Afghan security forces.

In fresh Kandahar protests on Sunday, two Afghans, including a child, were killed and 40 were wounded, according to provincial officials. A crowd of about 600 pelted with rocks the headquarters of the provincial governor, shouting "Death to America" and "Death to the slaves of the infidels."

"We cannot see the difference between that man in Florida and the American soldiers here," said Karimullah, a 25-year-old religious student who, like many Afghans, goes by one name and took part in Sunday's Kandahar protests. "They are killing our people here while in the U.S. they burn the Holy Quran. America just wants to humiliate the Muslim world."

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