"Expel the Swedish ambassador immediately" angry protestors write on the walls in Baghdad. Photo: Haydar Karaalp

Sadr protestors breach Sweden Embassy as Muslim nations denounce Quran burning

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Iraqi protesters breached Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad on Thursday, angered by a Quran burning outside a Stockholm mosque that sparked condemnation across the Muslim world.

A crowd of supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr stormed the compound, entered the building and stayed inside the compound for about 15 minutes, then left as security forces deployed, AFP reported. “Our constitution is the Quran,” read a message on leaflets carried by the protesters, and a message sprayed on the compound’s gate said “Yes, yes to the Quran”.

No one was hurt during the incident and the Swedish diplomats and staffers are said to be in a safe location.

The protest came a day after an Iraqi citizen living in Sweden, Salwan Momika, 37, stomped on the Islamic holy book and set several pages alight in front of the capital’s largest mosque. Swedish police had granted him a permit in line with free-speech protections, but authorities later also said they had opened an investigation over “agitation”.

Iraqis protest outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad a day after an Iraqi citizen living in Sweden stomped on the Koran and set several pages alight in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque.

The Quran burning sparked anger across and beyond the Middle East at a time Muslims have observed the Eid al-Adha holiday and the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia was drawing to a close.

Iraqi and Kurdish officials condemned the burdening of the Quran with the Iraqi foreign ministry criticizing Sweden’s decision to grant an “extremist” permission to burn the Quran and said such acts “inflame the feelings of Muslims around the world and represent a dangerous provocation.”

Kurdistan Reginal Government (KRG) Pm Masrour Barzani said on Twitter that he “condemns in the strongest terms the burning of the Noble Quran,” calling for preventing “all attempts to sabotage the foundations of peaceful coexistence between religions.”

Sadr had called for the demonstration at the Swedish embassy to demand the removal of the ambassador, charging that his state is “hostile to Islam”. Protester Hussein Ali Zeidan, 32, told AFP he came out to “support the noble Quran” and called to revoke Momika’s citizenship as “he does not represent Iraq”.

Saudi Arabia, which hosted around 1.8 million Muslim pilgrims for the hajj that ended on Wednesday, also denounced the Quran burning. “These hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted with any justification,” its foreign ministry said.

Iran joined in the condemnation, calling the Quran burning “provocative, ill-considered and unacceptable”. “The government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran… do not tolerate such an insult and strongly condemn it,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani.

“The Swedish government is expected to seriously consider the principle of responsibility and accountability in this regard, while preventing the repetition of insulting the holy sanctities.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also denounced Sweden for allowing a protest, further clouding the Nordic nation’s chances of quickly joining NATO. “We will eventually teach the arrogant Westerners that insulting Muslims is not freedom of thought,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

“We will show our reaction in the strongest possible terms, until a determined victory against terrorist organisations and Islamophobia is achieved.”

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, called the Quran burning a “disgraceful act provoking the feelings of Muslims” as they mark Eid. The Cairo-based Arab League branded it an “assault on the core of our Islamic faith”, and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council also condemned it.

The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation called for “effective measures to prevent a recurrence”.

United Arab Emirates presidential adviser Anwar Gargash tweeted that the West “must realise that its value system… cannot be imposed on the world”. The foreign ministry in Abu Dhabi summoned the Swedish ambassador to protest the free-speech protections given to “such heinous acts”, it said on Thursday.

Kuwait said perpetrators of “hostile acts” must be brought to justice and “prevented from using the principle of freedoms as a ploy to justify hostility against Islam or any holy faith”. “This new offensive and irresponsible act disregards the feelings of more than a billion Muslims,” the emirate said.

Bahrain said that “insulting religions is inconsistent with religious freedom… and generates hatred, extremism and violence”. Morocco summoned Sweden’s charge d’affaires in Rabat Wednesday and recalled its ambassador over “these repeated provocations, committed under the complacent gaze of the Swedish government”.

The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned what it said was a “flagrant attack on human rights, values of tolerance, acceptance of others, democracy and peaceful coexistence”. Syria also slammed the “disgraceful act”, and Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed movement Hezbollah charged the Swedish authorities were “complicit in the crime”.

Further afield, Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said it “strongly condemns the despicable act”. “Such wilful incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence cannot be justified under pretext of freedom of expression and protest,” it said.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which enforces a strict interpretation of Islamic law, also reacted angrily, labelling the Quran burning an act of “utter contempt towards this noble religion”.

AFP, NRT English