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Iraq expels Swedish ambassador over planned Quran burning

July 20, 2023

Iraq expressed its dismay over a planned Quran desecretion in Stockholm. Earlier, Iraqis stormed Sweden's embassy in Baghdad.

Police deploy a water cannon amid protests near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, after it was stormed before an expected Quran burning in Stockholm
Locals have become irritated by events in Sweden and Thursday's protest in Baghdad was organized by supporters of the religious leader Muqtada al-SadrImage: AHMED SAAD/REUTERS

Iraq on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from its territory amid anger over a planned Quran burning in Stockholm.  

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani "directed the Foreign Ministry to request the Swedish ambassador to Baghdad to leave the Iraqi territory in response to the Swedish government's repeated permission of burning the Holy Quran," according to a tweet from his media office.  

Iraq also suspended the operating license of Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, according to the country's state news agency INA.   

Swedish news agency TT reported on Wednesday that police granted an application for a public meeting outside the Iraqi embassy in the capital of Stockholm on Thursday.

The application says an individual seeks to set the Quran and the Iraqi flag alight, TT reported.

AFP news agency reported that a Sweden-based Iraqi refugee stomped on the Quran, but did not burn it, during a protest in Stockholm. TT reported that the Quran was damaged but not did not catch fire. 

Iraqi protesters storm Stockholm embassy

Earlier, hundreds of protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, climbing the building's walls and setting it alight.

Protesters had rallied at the site in anticipation of the Quran burning.

Iraqi riot police fired water cannons to break up the protests while security forces armed with electric batons chased protesters, an AFP photographer on the scene reported.

The demonstration was called by supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to protest the second planned Quran burning in Sweden in recent weeks, according to posts in a popular Telegram group connecting the influential cleric and other pro-Sadr media.

Iraqi protesters clash with security forces as they gather near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, with one demonstrator carrying a sign showing a picture of Muqtada al-Sadr
Muqtada al-Sadr has played a powerful role in Iraqi politics since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime Image: AHMED SAAD/REUTERS

The Swedish Foreign Ministry's press office also said that Iraqi authorities should be protecting its diplomatic missions and staff.

"The Iraqi authorities are responsible for the protection of diplomatic missions and their staff," the Swedish Foreign Ministry said in a statement to the AFP news agency, adding that attacks on embassies and diplomats "constitute a serious violation of the Vienna Convention."

Sweden labels embassy breach 'unacceptable'

After the breach, the ministry said in a statement that staff at the embassy were safe. 

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry condemned the storming of the Swedish Embassy. Iraqi authorities said they have ordered a swift probe into the breach to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable.  

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Bilstrom labeled the breach "totally unacceptable." 

"It is clear that the Iraq authorities have seriously failed in their responsibility to protect diplomatic missions and personnel," Bilstrom said in a statement shared on Twitter. Iraq's charge d'affaires in Stockholm has also been summoned by Swedish authorities to express their dismay after the incident. 

The US also called it "unacceptable" that Iraqi troops did not shield the Swedish embassy from the breach. 

jsi, wd/rc (AFP, Reuters, DPA)