BAGHDAD/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in central Baghdad in the early hours of Thursday, scaling its walls and setting fire to protest against an expected burning of the Koran in Sweden.
The press office of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that all embassy staff in Baghdad are safe, condemned the attack and highlighted the need for Iraqi authorities to protect diplomatic missions.
Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for the demonstration on Thursday to protest the burning of the Qur’an for the second time in Sweden in weeks, according to posts in a popular Telegram group that linked the influential cleric to other pro-Sadr media.
Al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful figures, sometimes leads the hundreds of thousands of followers he has called into the streets, including last summer when they occupied Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and bloody clashes.
Swedish news agency TT reported on Wednesday that Swedish police had approved a request for a public meeting outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday.
The request states that the applicant seeks to burn the Quran and the Iraqi flag, TT reports.
A series of videos posted to the Telegram group, One Baghdad, showed people gathering around the embassy around 1 a.m. Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday) shouting pro-Sadr slogans and storming the embassy compound about an hour later.
The demonstrators chanted, “Yes to the Koran.”
Videos later showed smoke billowing from a building in the embassy compound with protesters standing on its roof. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos.
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned the incident and said in a statement that the Iraqi government had instructed the security forces to conduct a prompt investigation, identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable.
By dawn on Thursday, security forces were deployed inside the embassy and smoke billowed from the building as firefighters put out stubborn embers, according to Reuters witnesses.
Most of the protesters walked out, with a few dozen outside the embassy.
Late last month, al-Sadr called for protests against Sweden and expelled the Swedish ambassador after the Koran was burned in Stockholm by an Iraqi man.
Swedish police charged the man with incitement against an ethnic or national group. In a newspaper interview, he described himself as an Iraqi refugee who seeks to ban the Koran, the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe is a revelation from God.
Two large demonstrations took place outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in the wake of the burning of the Qur’an, with demonstrators breaching the embassy premises on one occasion.
The governments of several Islamic countries, including Iraq, Turkey, the UAE, Jordan and Morocco, issued protests over the incident, with Iraq demanding that the man be extradited for trial in the country.
The United States also condemned it, but added that Sweden’s issuance of the permit supports freedom of expression and was not an endorsement of the action.
(Covering by Timur Azhari). Additional reporting by Anna Ringström in Stockholm. Written by Timur Azhari. Editing by Tom Hogg and Lincoln Feast
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