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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Swedish Embassy in Baghdad is set afire amid protests over Quran


The demonstrators, angry over Quran burnings in Sweden, protested throughout the night, setting part of the embassy on fire.

By The New York Times


Hundreds of protesters stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad early Thursday and set fire to part of the building, Reuters reported, ahead of another planned burning of the Quran in Sweden, which has angered many in the Muslim world and drawn condemnation from the Swedish authorities.


Footage shared on social media showed part of the embassy in flames and people with pieces of the building in their hands. The images could not be immediately verified.


The Iraqi police fired water cannon to disperse the protesters, according to images shared on social media and news reports.


All embassy staff members were safe, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said, according to Reuters. The ministry also said that the Iraqi authorities had the responsibility to protect diplomatic missions and their staff.


Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Twitter that it “condemns in the strongest terms” the burning of the embassy and that the government had instructed the security authorities to conduct “an urgent investigation” and to take security measures in order to “identify the perpetrators of this act and hold them accountable according to the law.”


In June, after a man tore up and burned the Quran outside the central mosque in Stockholm on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, hundreds of people in Iraq protested outside the Baghdad embassy at the urging of Muqtada al-Sadr, a populist cleric.


He had called on the Iraqi government to break off diplomatic relations with Sweden, which he said was “hostile” to Islam.


Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, said this month that his country would refrain from sending a new ambassador to Sweden in protest, Reuters reported. And Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Sweden’s charge d’affaires to condemn what it said was an insult to the most sacred Islamic values.


“Although administrative procedures to appoint a new ambassador to Sweden have ended, the process of dispatching them has been held off due to the Swedish government’s issuing of a permit to desecrate the Holy Quran,” Amirabdollahian said on Twitter.


Egypt called the burning of the Quran “a disgraceful act,” and Saudi Arabia said that such “hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted with any justification.” Malaysia’s foreign minister said the desecration of the holy book during an important holiday was “offensive to Muslims worldwide.”


The Swedish police charged the man who burned the Quran with agitation against an ethnic or national group. In a newspaper interview, he described himself as an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban it.


The protest Thursday was also called by supporters of al-Sadr.


A series of videos posted by One Baghdad, a popular Telegram channel that supports al-Sadr, showed people gathering around the embassy around 1 a.m. local time and storming the embassy complex about an hour later, Reuters reported.


Later, the news agency said, videos showed smoke rising from a building in the embassy complex. It was not immediately clear if anyone was inside the embassy at the time, Reuters said.


In January, someone set the Quran on fire near Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm, and a far-right journalist and anti-Islam provocateur, Rasmus Paludan, a dual Danish-Swedish national with links to Kremlin-backed media, later confirmed that he had paid for the permit to hold what he called a protest. But he denied paying anyone to burn the holy book.


While the Swedish police have rejected several recent applications for anti-Quran demonstrations, courts have overruled those decisions, saying they infringed on freedom of speech.


Turkey had cited the desecration of the Quran as it stalled Sweden’s bid to enter NATO, which needs the approval of all members, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vile attack on our holy book,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement in January.


Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billstrom, has said that Islamophobic provocations were appalling.


Turkey this month appeared to relent on Sweden’s NATO bid, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later said that the final decision rested with its parliament and that Sweden needed to take more steps to win the country’s support.

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