Germany′s President Rau Criticizes Bush′s Religious Fervor | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.04.2003
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Germany's President Rau Criticizes Bush's Religious Fervor

The German president says weapons inpectors were the right solution to the conflict with Iraq. In the combat zone, U.S. troops kill eight unarmed civilians at checkpoints.


Taking flight: Residents flee Basra, Iraq, on Monday.

German President Johannes Rau has added his voice to the millions of others expressing harsh criticism of U.S. President George W. Bush and the war he is leading against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Johannes Rau Portraitbild

Johannes Rau

In a television interview broadcast on Monday evening, Rau (photo) challenged Bush on a subject that is very close to the U.S. president's heart -- religion. The German president, whose position usually puts him above the daily skirmishing among Germany's political parties, said the Bible did not call on anyone to conduct crusades. "I don't believe that a people receives a message from God to free another people," Rau said.

He added that Pope John Paul II actually had the right religious approach to the conflict with Iraq. In the days leading up to the fighting, the pope stressed that the war would be a defeat for humanity. "Whoever decides that all peaceful means available under international law are exhausted assumes a grave responsibility before God, his own conscience and history," the Vatican said last month.

Rau said that instead of focusing on a religious approach to the conflict, Bush should have supported the worldly mission of the U.N. weapons inspectors and their search for weapons of mass destruction. "The U.N. inspectors would have accomplished this task without causing this suffering," he said. "That would have been the right way."

The war entered its 13th day with reports about the killing of eight Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers and the continued aerial pounding of Saddam's elite Republican Guard near the capital of Baghdad. Here is a summary of major developments.

Seven civilians killed at checkpoint

U.S. troops, fearful of a fresh suicide attack, opened fire on a civilian vehicle at a military checkpoint in Iraq after the driver ignored warnings, a military spokesman said in As-Saliyah, Qatar, on Tuesday. The shots killed seven women and children, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens said. Two other occupants were wounded and four were uninjured.

The shooting occurred at a checkpoint manned by soldiers from the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division at Najaf, 95 miles (150 kilometers) south of Baghdad, on Monday afternoon, Owens said.

He said the victims were in a vehicle that failed to stop despite repeated warning shots fired by U.S. troops. "As a last resort, they (U.S. troops) fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle," Owens said at the U.S. Central Command's forward planning base in Qatar.

U.S. troops have been on edge because of ambushes and a checkpoint suicide attack on Saturday that killed four comrades near Najaf. Iraq, heavily outgunned by the U.S and British forces, promised more suicide attacks would follow.

A statement issued by the Central Command said: "Initial reports indicate the soldiers responded in accordance with the rules of engagement to protect themselves. In light of recent terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the soldiers exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary loss of life."

Unarmed driver shot at a second checkpoint

In another incident, U.S. Marines killed an unarmed Iraqi driver at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq just hours after the first shootings.

"I thought it was a suicide bomb," said one of the service members who fired on the vehicle near Shatra, 20 miles from Nasiriya, a city that has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

A couple of hours after daybreak, the man drove his white pickup truck fast toward the roadblock on a main highway, apparently unaware of the barbed wire strewn across the road ahead, Marines told a correspondent at the scene. As he drove straight through the coils of wire, the Marines sprayed his vehicle with bullets, killing the driver and hitting his one middle-aged passenger in the arms and legs. The truck was carrying no load, and neither man in it was in uniform or armed, the Marines said.

Such shootings pose a problem for U.S. leaders trying to convince the Iraqi population that they are fighting to free them from the dictatorial rule of Saddam. "On the hearts and minds front, the war is still not going particularly well for the coalition," said Alan Dupont of the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University.

Presidential palace targeted again

Intense bombing attacks struck the main presidential palace compound early Tuesday and the outskirts of the city, where four divisions of Saddam's elite Republican Guard are dug in to defend the capital from any ground attack. Reporters said that the raids were intensifying and that the latest barrage during night seemed to be the heaviest yet to have hit the city center.

The ominous whistle of the missiles was heard in the sky before a series of explosions shook the city, appearing to knock out electricity in entire neighborhoods. Balls of smoke slowly merged into a single cloud overhead. The eerie silence in the aftermath of the raid was broken only by the wail of ambulance sirens.

Coalition forces say thousands of attack sorties have been carried out since the war began March 20, with 1,000 on Sunday alone. The Iraqi Information Ministry was hit Monday, and domestic television was off air for several hours.

Fight against Republican Guard intensifies

South of the capital, U.S. troops massing for a decisive push toward Saddam's seat of power reported their first serious fighting with Iraq's crack Republican Guard, considered Saddam's most determined military unit and the key to the defense of Baghdad. U.S. officers said on Tuesday that 200 Iraqis were killed, wounded or captured in the clashes that broke out overnight near Karbala, 50 miles from Baghdad.

U.S. officers also said on Tuesday that Iraq had brought up reinforcements for Republican Guard units defending the approaches to Baghdad. Officers said mixed and matched elements of five Republican Guard divisions, troops backed by heavy armor, manned a southern arc in front of Baghdad. There was no immediate estimate how many troops this would represent, but Iraqi divisions normally have 12,000-15,000 troops.

The United States is positioning four major units for the battle. The U.S. Army's 20,000-strong 3rd Infantry Division is about 60 miles south of Baghdad. The U.S. Army's elite 101st Airborne Division is located near the town of Najaf. Two formations of U.S. Marines are to the east. Some commanders have suggested a major tank battle could be shaping up in the next week.

British need reinforcements

In Basra, the city seen as key to controlling southeastern Iraq, British troops said they were waiting for reinforcements before making a final push to take the city. British commanders said 600 soldiers backed by tanks and armored vehicles were battling to punch through the town of Abu Al Khasib, about 12 miles southeast of Basra, as British artillery pounded Basra's western edge.

Iraqi citizens fleeing the besieged city said on Tuesday that they faced terrifying pressure from Saddam's loyalists to join the fight against U.S. and British troops. The Iraqi president's Baath party "says fight, fight, fight or face the consequences once they all return after the war. It blares out on loudspeakers around Basra. They are trying to scare the whole city," said one Iraqi man, who declined to be identified. "It is not food we are worried about. It is the terror in Basra, state terror."

The stiff resistance has confounded British and U.S. hopes that the Shi'ite people of southern Iraq would repeat their 1991 revolt against Saddam's largely Sunni leadership. The revolt was brutally put down, and the United States did nothing to intercede.

Nearby, clean water has returned to Umm Qasr, the town on Iraq's southern tip controlled by the U.S.-led coalition. But distribution has been chaotic, leaving some of the 40,000 residents still without water.

Iraqis say peace activist bus attacked

Der irakische Informationsminister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf vor Vertretern der Presse

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf

U.S. warplanes on Monday attacked two buses bringing American and European peace activists to Baghdad from neighboring Jordan, Iraq said on Tuesday. Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told a news conference that the injured were being treated in a hospital near the Jordanian border. He gave no more details of casualties. "These were human shields who were coming to Baghdad to be deployed," he said.

Asked about the claim during a news briefing at Central Command headquarters in Qatar, U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said he knew nothing of any such attacks.

Hundreds of Western activists poured into Baghdad before the war to show their support for the Iraqi people in the weeks leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of the country. Some of them set up camp in power stations and water plants around the Iraqi capital in a bid to dissuade U.S. commanders from targeting the facilities.

Other developments

-- A Patriot missile intercepted an Iraqi missile before it was able to enter Kuwaiti airspace on Tuesday, a Kuwaiti Defense Ministry spokesman said. Eighteen missiles have been fired at Kuwait since the start of the war in neighboring Iraq, but they have caused relatively little damage. Two people were slightly injured early Saturday when a low-flying Silkworm missile landed in the sea close to the emirate's largest and most popular waterfront shopping mall.

-- Jordan has arrested an undisclosed number of Iraqis suspected of plotting to contaminate a water tank supplying U.S. troops in the desert near the Iraqi border, Jordanian officials said on Tuesday. The officials identified the target as a facility supplying water to hundreds of U.S. troops at a base at Khao, close to the industrial Jordanian city of Zarqa.

--The U.S. Army is ending a training program in Hungary for Iraqis hired to help coalition forces in their native country, the military said in a statement released late Monday. The statement gave no reason for the decision to end the program at the base in Taszar.

Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.

Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.