The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was seized and set alight by enraged demonstrators protesting against the burning of the Quran in Sweden. The assault took place in the early hours of Thursday, with protestors scaling the Swedish embassy compound walls and igniting a fire.
Correspondent Mahmoud Abdelwahed reported from Nasiriya in southern Iraq that the crowd brandished flags and placards showing their allegiance to the influential Iraqi Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr.
According to a statement from the Swedish foreign ministry, all staff within the embassy are safe. The ministry denounced the attack and called upon the Iraqi government to guarantee the security of diplomatic missions.
The attack was also condemned by Iraq’s foreign ministry, with a promise of an urgent investigation and necessary security measures to identify and bring to justice those responsible.
Despite this, a subsequent statement released later on Thursday by the Iraqi government indicated that it may sever diplomatic ties with Sweden if a second instance of Quran burning occurs on Swedish soil.
According to eyewitnesses, security forces had entered the Swedish embassy compound by dawn, battling to extinguish the lingering flames. Although most of the protestors had dispersed by this time, a contingent remained outside the embassy premises.
The protestors have threatened to maintain their action if further desecrations of the Quran occur, and have indicated their readiness to “take matters into their own hands” should the Iraqi government not immediately dismiss the Swedish diplomatic mission, reported Abdelwahed.
The protest at the Swedish embassy was organised by Sadr supporters in response to a planned second Quran burning at the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm.
At the site of the demonstration, one protestor, Hassan Ahmed, spoke to the French news agency AFP, stating, “We are mobilised today to denounce the burning of the Quran, which is all about love and faith.” He appealed to both the Swedish and Iraqi governments to prevent such incidents in the future.
Swedish news outlets identified the instigator of the Quran burning as Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden. Momika, who also desecrated a copy of the Quran outside Stockholm’s largest mosque on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, had triggered a previous storming of Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad.
The incident has incited international protest from several Muslim-majority nations, including Iraq, Turkey, UAE, Jordan, and Morocco, who are all demanding Momika’s extradition to face trial in Iraq. Swedish authorities, who initially granted Momika a permit under free speech protections, have now opened an investigation into potential “agitation against an ethnic group”.
Image Credit: Ahmed Saad/Reuters