Protesters in Iraq storm Swedish Embassy in Baghdad over Koran burning

The demonstrations began after a man had planned, under police protection, to burn a copy of the Quran and the Torah, the Jewish holy book, outside of the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm.

Updated - July 20, 2023 08:35 am IST

Published - July 20, 2023 08:34 am IST - Baghdad

Protesters clash with security forces members as they gather near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad hours after the embassy was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Koran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2023.

Protesters clash with security forces members as they gather near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad hours after the embassy was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Koran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2023. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Protesters angered by the burning of a copy of the Koran stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad early Thursday, July 20, 2023, breaking into the compound and lighting a small fire.

Online videos showed demonstrators at the diplomatic post waving flags and signs showing the influential Iraqi Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr. It wasn't clear if there were any staff inside the complex at the time.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The videos showed dozens of men climbing over the fence at the complex, with the sound of them trying to break down a front door. Another showed what appeared to be a small fire being set. Other footage showed men, some shirtless in the summer heat, inside what appeared to be a room at the embassy, an alarm audible in the background.

Others later performed predawn prayers outside of the embassy.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the attack.

"The Iraqi government has instructed the competent security authorities to conduct an urgent investigation and take the necessary security measures in order to uncover the circumstances of the incident and identify the perpetrators of this act and hold them accountable according to the law," the Foreign Ministry said.

Iraqi police and state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack.

The demonstrations began after a man had planned, under police protection, to burn a copy of the Koran and the Torah, the Jewish holy book, outside of the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm. However, the man reportedly had abandoned his plan amid the widespread outrage.

Laws in Sweden

The right to hold public demonstrations is strong in Sweden and protected by the Constitution. Blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s.

For Muslims, the burning of the Koran represents a blasphemous desecration of their religion's holy text. Koran burnings in the past have sparked protests across the Muslim world, some turning violent. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have suspended all the activities of Swedish organizations in the country in response to the recent Koran burning.

An Iraqi Christian immigrant last month burned a Koran outside a Stockholm mosque during the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, triggering widespread condemnation in the Islamic world. A similar protest by a far-right activist was held outside Turkey's Embassy earlier this year, complicating Sweden's efforts to convince Turkey to let it join NATO.

In June, protesters stormed the embassy in Baghdad during daylight hours over that Koran burning. Another day of protests saw thousands of demonstrators on the streets in the country. Protesters then, as well as early Thursday, called on Iraqi officials to expel Sweden's ambassador to Iraq.

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