Hundreds of protesters stormed thelm Swedish embassy in central Baghdad, Iraq in the early hours of Thursday morning, July 20, scaling its walls and setting it on fire in protest against the expected burning of a Koran in Sweden.
All Baghdad embassy staff were safe, the Swedish foreign ministry press office said in a statement, condemning the attack and urging Iraqi authorities to protect diplomatic missions.
Thursday’s demonstration was called by supporters of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada Sadr to protest the second planned Koran burning in Sweden in recent weeks, according to posts in a popular Telegram group linked to the influential cleric and other pro-Sadr media.
Sadr commands hundreds of thousands of followers whom he has at times called to the streets, including last summer when they occupied Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone and engaged in deadly clashes.
The burning of the Swedish embassy came after Swedish police on Wednesday, July 19 granted an application for a public meeting outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday, the police permit showed. Police said in the permit two people were expected to participate.
Swedish news agency TT reported that the two men planned to burn the Koran and the Iraqi flag at the public meeting, and included a man who set a Koran on fire outside a Stockholm mosque in June.
Swedish police denied several applications earlier this year for protests that were set to include burning the Koran, citing security concerns. Courts have since overturned the police’s decisions, saying such acts are protected by the country’s freedom of speech laws.
A series of videos posted to the Telegram group, One Baghdad, showed people gathering around the Swedish embassy around 1 a.m. on Thursday chanting pro-Sadr slogans and storming the embassy complex around an hour later.
“Yes, yes to the Koran,” protesters chanted.
Videos later showed smoke rising from a building in the embassy complex and protesters standing on its roof.
By early morning Thursday, security forces had deployed inside the embassy while fire-fighters came to sort out the engulfing fires.
Last month, Sadr called for protests against Sweden and the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador after the Koran burning in Stockholm by an Iraqi man.
After the burning, the man was reported to police for agitation against an ethnic or national group. In a newspaper interview, he described himself as an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban the Koran, the central religious text of Islam, believed by Muslims to be a revelation from God.
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