Iraq Expels Swedish Ambassador Following Quran Desecration at Swedish Embassy

by Chloe Baker
Quran burnings in Sweden

The Swedish Embassy in Baghdad faced a violent attack by outraged protesters on Thursday, resulting in the breach of the diplomatic compound and the initiation of a fire. The assault was provoked by the scheduled burning of a Quran copy in Sweden by an Iraqi man. In response, Iraq’s Prime Minister severed diplomatic ties with Sweden as a gesture of protest against the desecration of the Islamic holy book.

During the early hours of Thursday, demonstrators forcefully entered the diplomatic premises, brandishing flags and signs featuring Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader. They proceeded to ignite a small fire within the embassy. The assault occurred prior to a planned Quran burning in Stockholm, orchestrated by an Iraqi asylum-seeker who had previously burned a copy of the holy book during a demonstration last month.

The Swedish Embassy promptly announced its closure to visitors following the incident, without specifying a reopening date. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, after holding a meeting with security officials, declared that the arsonists responsible and “negligent security officials” would be subject to prosecution and investigation, respectively.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Iraqi government had informed their Swedish counterparts of their intention to sever diplomatic relations if the Quran burning took place. Consequently, Sudani ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from Iraq and the withdrawal of the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Sweden.

The expulsion directive was issued following an anti-Islam protest near the Iraqi Embassy in Stockholm, where two individuals engaged in disrespectful acts towards the Quran. Although one of them, identified as Salwan Momika, an Iraqi Christian residing in Sweden, stepped on and kicked the holy book, he refrained from setting it on fire. Momika also mistreated an Iraqi flag, as well as photographs of al-Sadr and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

Approximately 50 people, including journalists and a few counterdemonstrators, witnessed the protest from behind police barricades. Uniformed and plainclothes officers monitored the situation. Subsequently, Iraq’s Media and Communications Commission announced the suspension of Swedish communications company Ericsson’s license to operate in Iraq.

Before the planned protest in Stockholm, several men scaled the fence surrounding the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad. Video footage depicted their attempts to break down a door, start a fire, and occupy a room within the embassy premises. Some protesters conducted dawn prayers outside the embassy.

As daylight arrived, security officials and police gathered at the embassy while firefighters worked to extinguish the flames. Demonstrators holding placards displaying al-Sadr’s face remained at the scene, seemingly unbothered by the presence of the police.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry assured the safety of its staff in a statement, condemning all attacks on diplomats and international organizations. They emphasized the responsibility of Iraqi authorities to protect diplomatic missions and personnel, emphasizing that such attacks violated the Vienna Convention.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström criticized the attacks as “completely unacceptable.” The ministry intended to summon Iraq’s charge d’affaires in Stockholm, reprimanding Iraqi authorities for their significant failure to protect the embassy and its staff.

The Finnish embassy in Baghdad, situated adjacent to the Swedish embassy, remained safe behind blast walls. Matti Lassila, Finland’s ambassador to Iraq, confirmed the proactive evacuation of staff from the Swedish and Finnish embassies on Wednesday, assuring their well-being.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack in a statement, vowing to hold the culprits accountable without disclosing how the breach occurred or identifying the assailants.

Authorities in Stockholm verified that permission had been granted for a demonstration involving two individuals outside the Iraqi Embassy. However, it remained unclear whether the protesters planned to burn the Quran, although social media videos posted by Momika suggested their intention to do so.

Sweden places strong emphasis on the right to hold public demonstrations, protected by the constitution. Blasphemy laws were abolished in the 1970s. The police grant permission based on their assessment of whether a public gathering can be conducted without major disruptions or risks to public safety.

Muslims consider the burning of the Quran a blasphemous desecration of their holy text. Previous Quran burnings have triggered protests across the Muslim world, sometimes escalating into violence. In response to the recent Quran burning incident, the Taliban suspended all activities involving Swedish organizations in Afghanistan.

Last month, an individual identified as Momika burned a Quran outside a Stockholm mosque during the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, leading to widespread condemnation within the Islamic world. Earlier this year, a far-right activist staged a similar protest outside Turkey’s Embassy, complicating Sweden’s efforts to gain NATO membership.

Over the years, Muqtada al-Sadr, the son of a prominent Shiite cleric assassinated in 1999, has transitioned from leading a Shiite resistance against the American occupation to participating in Iraqi military operations against the Islamic State group. He has organized rallies against government corruption and breached the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. Al-Sadr’s forces were also believed to have been involved in the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq following the bombing of a revered Shiite Islamic site.

Notable contributions to this report were made by Jon Gambrell, Karl Ritter, Jari Tanner, and Qassim Abdul-Zahra. Reporting was provided by Sewell from Beirut and Keyton from Stockholm.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Quran desecration

Q: What led to the expulsion of Sweden’s ambassador from Iraq?

A: The expulsion of Sweden’s ambassador from Iraq was a response to the planned burning of a Quran by an Iraqi man in Sweden, which angered protesters. They stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad, leading to the severing of diplomatic ties by Iraq’s Prime Minister in protest over the desecration of the Islamic holy book.

Q: Why did protesters target the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad?

A: The protesters targeted the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad due to their anger over the planned burning of a Quran in Sweden. They viewed it as a disrespectful act towards their religion and sought to express their outrage by storming the embassy and setting a small fire.

Q: How did Sweden react to the attack on their embassy?

A: The Swedish Embassy announced its closure to visitors following the attack. The Swedish Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attack as unacceptable and summoned Iraq’s charge d’affaires in Stockholm to address the issue. Sweden criticized Iraqi authorities for failing to protect the embassy and its personnel.

Q: What were the consequences of the Quran burning incident?

A: The Quran burning incident resulted in the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from Iraq and the withdrawal of the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Sweden. Additionally, the license of Swedish communications company Ericsson to operate in Iraq was suspended by Iraq’s Media and Communications Commission.

Q: Who is Muqtada al-Sadr and why were his images displayed during the protests?

A: Muqtada al-Sadr is an influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader. His images were displayed during the protests at the Swedish Embassy as he holds significant sway among the Shiite community in Iraq. Demonstrators associated with his ideology used his images to express their support and solidarity.

Q: Did the Swedish government take any legal actions following the attack on the embassy?

A: The Swedish government demanded that those responsible for the arson at the embassy be prosecuted. They also called for an investigation into the negligence of security officials. Legal actions were pursued to ensure accountability for the attack on the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad.

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BookLover27 July 20, 2023 - 5:28 pm

wth is wrong with ppl these days?? attacking embassy over quran burning is NOT the answer! violence only leads to more violence smh

User123 July 20, 2023 - 9:59 pm

oh my god! this is sooo bad!! how could protesters do dat?! iraq expells swedish ambassador over quran desecration, soo sad 🙁

LanguageEnthusiast July 21, 2023 - 7:27 am

The lack of proper grammar and punctuation in these comments makes it difficult to understand the emotions expressed. It’s important to convey our thoughts clearly and respectfully, even when discussing sensitive topics like religious desecration.


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