Monday, June 17, 2024

Iraq expels Sweden envoy over Quran burning

Iraq has expelled the Swedish ambassador hours after protesters angered by the burning of copies of the holy Quran in the European country, stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, scaling the walls of the compound and setting it on fire.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, also recalled his country’s charge d’affaires in Sweden, the government said on Thursday, and suspended the working permit of Swedish telecom company Ericsson on Iraqi soil, according to state media.

Early on Thursday morning, demonstrators at the embassy waved flags and signs showing the influential Iraqi Shia religious and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

The burning of the embassy was called by supporters of al-Sadr to protest the second planned burning of a Quran in front of the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday. While protesters in Sweden kicked and partially damaged a book they said was the Quran, they did not burn it as they had threatened to do.

In Baghdad, all embassy staff were safe, the Swedish foreign ministry press office said in a statement, condemning the attack and highlighting the need for Iraqi authorities to protect diplomatic missions.

Iraq’s foreign ministry also strongly condemned 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 announced in a statement.

However, a statement later on Thursday from the government said that it would sever diplomatic ties with Sweden if a second Quran burning takes place in the country.

“The Iraqi government has informed the Swedish government through diplomatic channels that any recurrence of the incident involving the burning of the Holy Quran on Swedish soil would necessitate severing diplomatic relations,” the statement from the prime minister’s office added.

By dawn on Thursday, security forces had deployed inside the embassy and smoke rose from the building as fire-fighters extinguished stubborn embers, according to witnesses.

Most protesters had withdrawn, with a few dozen milling around outside the embassy.

Protesters have vowed to continue protesting “if any more burnings of the Quran happen”. The demonstrators are prepared to “take matters in their own hands” if the “Iraqi government does not dismiss the Swedish diplomatic mission immediately”.

Swedish media reported that Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden, had organised the planned burning on Thursday.

Salwan also burned pages of a copy of the Quran in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque on June 28 during Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.

That earlier incident also prompted supporters of Moqtada to storm Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad the following day.

The governments of several Muslim countries issued protests about the incident.

Swedish police had granted Momika a permit in line with the country’s free speech protections, but authorities later said they had opened an investigation over “agitation against an ethnic group”, noting that Momika had burned pages from the Islamic holy book very close to the mosque.

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