Hundreds of protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in central Baghdad in the early hours of Thursday morning, scaling its walls and setting it on fire in protest against the expected burning of a Qur’an in Sweden.
All Baghdad 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 condemned the incident and said in a statement the Iraqi government had instructed security forces to carry out a swift investigation, identify perpetrators and hold them to account.
Thursday’s demonstration was called by supporters of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada Sadr to protest the second planned Qur’an burning in Sweden in weeks, according to posts in a popular Telegram group linked the influential cleric and other pro-Sadr media.
Swedish news agency TT reported on Wednesday that Swedish police granted an application for a public meeting outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday.
The application says the applicant seeks to burn the Qur’an and the Iraqi flag, TT reported.
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Two people were set to participate in the demonstration, according to TT, adding one of the people was the same person who set a Qur’an on fire outside a Stockholm mosque in June.
A series of videos posted to the Telegram group, One Baghdad, showed people gathering around the embassy around 1 a.m. on Thursday (2200 GMT on Wednesday) chanting pro-Sadr slogans.
“Yes, yes to the Qur’an,” protesters chanted.
Videos later showed smoke rising from a building in the embassy complex and protesters standing on its roof. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos.
Other videos showed dozens of men climbing over the fence at the complex, with the sound of them trying to break down a front door. Another showed what appeared to be a small fire being set. Still more footage showed men, some shirtless in the summer heat, inside what appeared to be a room at the embassy, an alarm audible in the background.
Others later performed predawn prayers outside of the embassy.
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By dawn on Thursday, security forces had deployed inside the embassy and smoke rose from the building as firefighters extinguished stubborn embers, according to Reuters witnesses.
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Most protesters had withdrawn, with a few dozen milling around outside the embassy.
Late last month, Sadr called for protests against Sweden and the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador after the Qur’an burning in Stockholm by an Iraqi man.
Swedish police charged the man with agitation against an ethnic or national group. In a newspaper interview, he described himself as an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban the Qur’an, the central religious text of Islam, believed by Muslims to be a revelation from God.
Two major protests took place outside of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in the aftermath of that Qur’an burning, with protesters breaching the embassy grounds on one occasion.
The governments of several Muslim countries, including Iraq, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Morocco issued protests about the incident, with Iraq seeking the man’s extradition to face trial in the country.
The United States also condemned it, but added that Sweden’s issuing of the permit supported freedom of expression and was not an endorsement of the action.
With additional files from the Associated Press