Hundreds of protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in central Baghdad in the early hours of Thursday morning, climbing its walls and setting it on fire, in protest against an expected burning of a copy of the Qur’an in Sweden.
The press office of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that all embassy staff in Baghdad are safe, and condemned the attack, noting that the Iraqi government should protect diplomatic missions.
Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr have called for a demonstration on Thursday to protest the planned second burning of the Qur’an in Sweden in just weeks, according to posts from a popular Telegram group linked to the influential cleric and other media outlets loyal to him.
Muqtada al Sadr is one of the most powerful figures in Iraq with hundreds of thousands of followers whom he has sometimes called out to the streets, as last summer when they occupied Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and fought deadly clashes.
The Swedish news agency reported on Wednesday that the Swedish police had approved a request to organize a public gathering outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday.
The agency added that the request stated that the applicant seeks to burn the Qur’an and the Iraqi flag.
A series of videos posted by the popular group on Telegram, “Baghdad One,” showed people gathering around the embassy at around 1 AM, Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday), chanting slogans in support of al Sadr, and storming the embassy compound about an hour later.
“Yes, yes to the Qur’an,” the protesters chanted.
Videos posted later showed smoke rising from a building inside the embassy compound, and protesters standing on its roof.
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned the setting fire to the embassy, and said in a statement that the government had ordered the security authorities to conduct an urgent investigation to uncover the circumstances of the incident, identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable.
By dawn on Thursday, security forces were deployed inside the embassy and smoke rose from the building, while firefighting teams put out the flames.
Most of the demonstrators withdrew, while a few dozen remained around the embassy.
Late last month, Muqtada al Sadr called for anti-Swedish protests and expelled its ambassador after an Iraqi man burned the Qur’an in Stockholm.
Swedish police charged the man with incitement to an ethnic or national group.
The man described himself in a newspaper interview as an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban the Qur’an.
Two large demonstrations took place outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad following the burning of the Qur’an, with demonstrators reaching the embassy grounds in one of the demonstrations.
On the same context, the Iraqi government issued an official statement on Thursday, asked the Swedish ambassador to leave Iraq, and decided to withdraw its charge d’affaires from Stockholm, in response to the burning of the Qur’an in the Swedish capital.
The statement issued by the Iraqi Prime Ministry stated that “the Prime Minister, Mr. Muhammad Shia’ al Sudani, directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to withdraw the Iraqi Chargé d’Affairs from the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in the Swedish capital, Stockholm,” adding that he also directed “to request the Swedish ambassador in Baghdad to leave Iraqi territory, in response… On repeatedly allowing the Swedish government to burn the Holy Qur’an, insult Islamic sanctities, and burn the Iraqi flag”.
Sweden announced that it had summoned the Iraqi chargé d’affaires in Stockholm following the burning of its embassy in Baghdad during a demonstration that took place at dawn on Thursday in protest against a scheduled gathering in Sweden, whose organizer intends to burn a copy of the Qur’an during it.
The governments of several Islamic countries, including Iraq, Türkiye, the UAE, Jordan and Morocco, issued protests over the incident, and Iraq is seeking to retrieve the man for trial.
The United States also condemned the incident, but said that Sweden’s issuance of the permit supports freedom of expression, not an endorsement of the measure.