Iraq: Swedish embassy in Baghdad set on fire during demonstrations

The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was torched before dawn on Thursday during a demonstration organized by supporters of embattled religious leader Moqtada Sadr, ahead of a new event in Sweden where a copy of the Koran is supposed to be burned, an AFP correspondent said.

Smoke billowed from the Swedish embassy building, an AFP correspondent saw from the terrace of a building in the neighborhood where Iraqi riot forces were stationed in large numbers, while dozens of protesters were still there.

Embassy staff are “safe”, the Swedish foreign ministry told AFP in Stockholm. “We are aware of the situation. Our embassy staff are safe and the ministry is in regular contact with them,” the ministry said in an email.

In Baghdad, several civil defense trucks were on site to put out the fire, an AFP photographer said. He said the clashes also pitted Iraqi security forces against protesters, who threw stones at police trying to re-enter the embassy grounds.

An AFP correspondent said some protesters waved copies of the Koran near the embassy on Thursday night, while others waved pictures of Mohammed al-Sadr, an influential Shia cleric and father of Moqtada Sadr.

The attack on the embassy in Baghdad comes after Swedish police authorized a mini-rally in Stockholm on Thursday: the organizer, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden named Salwan Momica, plans to burn a copy of the Quran as well as the Iraqi flag in front of the Iraqi embassy.

“Today we have come together to condemn the fact of burning the Quran, which is only love and faith,” protester Hasan Ahmed told AFP. “We demand from the Swedish government and the Iraqi government to stop this type of initiative,” he stressed.

– “Immediate investigation” –

“We didn’t wait for the morning, we entered at dawn, we set fire to the Swedish embassy,” said another young protester, before chanting “Muktada Muktada Muktada” after an influential religious leader.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the demonstrator said the action was taken by “children of the sadist stream” after Salwan Momica was once again granted authorization to “demonstrate to burn the Koran” in Sweden.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry condemned “in the strongest terms” Thursday’s fire at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, and called on security forces to launch an “immediate investigation”, according to a press release.

“The Iraqi government has instructed the relevant security services to immediately investigate and take all necessary measures to uncover the circumstances of the incident and identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice in accordance with the law,” the statement said.

Salwan Momica, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden and the organizer of Thursday’s event, according to Swedish media, had already burned pages from a copy of the Quran in front of Stockholm’s biggest mosque on June 28, the day of Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.

This first incident prompted supporters of the religious leader and politician Muqtada Sadr to attack the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on 29 June. He went inside and stayed there for about a quarter of an hour before coming out.

At the time, Salvan Momica’s gesture in Stockholm sparked international condemnation.

This type of act has already happened in Sweden or other European countries, sometimes at the initiative of far-right movements. They have sparked demonstrations and diplomatic tensions in the past.

Muqtada Sadr, an influential religious leader and troubleshooter of Iraqi politics, has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to mobilize thousands of protesters to the streets of Iraq. In the summer of 2022, his supporters stormed the parliament in Baghdad and staged a sit-in for several weeks. Then their leaders were completely embroiled in the opposition political camp regarding the appointment of the Prime Minister.

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