Foreign

June 30, 2023

Iraqis begin fresh protest near Sweden embassy over Quran burning

Iraqis start fresh protest near Sweden embassy over Quran burning

Several thousand Iraqis gathered near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad Friday for a second day of protests against a Quran burning outside a Stockholm mosque that outraged Muslims around the world.

On Thursday, one group of protesters managed to penetrate the embassy and stay inside for some 15 minutes before leaving when security forces arrived.

On Friday, police closed off the street past the embassy with concrete blocks and the protesters gathered on a nearby avenue.

The demonstration was again organised by supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose movement is not part of the current Iraqi government but still commands huge influence.

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 said they had opened an investigation over “agitation”.

Sadr, in a statement read on his behalf by a cleric at the protest, warned that burning the Koran was “incitement to hatred” against millions of Muslims.

The Quran burning, coinciding with the start of the Muslim Eid al-Adha and the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, sparked anger across the Muslim world.

Smaller protests also took place on Friday in Iraq’s port city of Basra where hundreds gathered in response to Sadr’s call, and in neighbouring Iran where dozens demonstrated outside the Swedish embassy in Tehran, AFP correspondents said.

Kuwait on Friday summoned Sweden’s envoy over the incident, a day after similar action by Iraq, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s an insult to the Holy Quran,” Iraqi civil servant Nafia Wali Idriss said in Baghdad. “Freedom of expression must not clear the way for sectarianism.”

Friday’s protesters chose their own bugbears to trample underfoot – photographs of Momika and the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ movement.

“No to homosexuality, yes to the Quran,” the demonstrators chanted.

The Iraqi government has called on Sweden to extradite Momika so he can be put on trial in his home country.

The foreign ministry also summoned Swedish ambassador Jessica Svardstrom on Thursday to hear a strong protest against her government’s authorisation of Momika’s protest.

Sadr movement official, Hakim al-Zamili, said the calling in of the ambassador was not enough and demanded “more concrete measures”.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Friday distanced himself from Momika’s protest. “This is a serious security question. There’s no need to insult other people,” the right-wing premier said.

Momika told a Swedish newspaper late Thursday that he intended to repeat his protest in July. “Within 10 days I will burn the Iraqi flag and the Koran in front of Iraq’s embassy in Stockholm,” he told Expressen.

AFP