Iraq expels Swedish ambassador over Quran controversy

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gather for a protest outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on July 20, 2023.  AFP/File
Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gather for a protest outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on July 20, 2023. AFP/File

Iraq has expelled the Swedish ambassador after several protests erupted after the desecration of the Quran in Stockholm on Thursday.

Tension between the two countries escalated after a man named Salwan Momica not only burnt pages of Islam’s holy book in Sweden but also crushed it outside the Iraqi embassy.

The latest incident led to a chaotic early morning attack on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad by hundreds of angry Iraqis. The situation took a turn for the worse when the Iraqi government condemned the attack and retaliated by expelling Sweden’s ambassador. In addition, Iraq vowed to sever ties with Sweden and suspended the operating license of Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani expressed his displeasure, saying, “This decision was taken because of the Swedish government’s repeated permission to burn the Holy Quran, insult Islamic sanctuaries, and burn the Iraqi flag.” The burning of religious symbols and books in Sweden by far-right activists and other activists citing protection of freedom of expression has sparked protests in European countries in the past.

The situation resulted in an overnight commotion at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. Protesters, mainly followers of the influential Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, stormed the embassy, ​​clashed with riot police and set buildings on fire. In the midst of the unrest, the Iraqi government took about 20 protesters into custody.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström strongly condemned the attack on the embassy, ​​calling it “completely unacceptable”. He emphasized that under the Vienna Convention, the Iraqi authorities have an obligation to protect diplomatic missions and personnel.

Countries such as Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have joined the voice of condemnation against Sweden for allowing the Koran burning protests to go ahead. Additionally, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union expressed their concern, finding it unacceptable that Iraqi security forces did not prevent the attack on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.

The controversy over Quran burning has drawn attention from Muslim-majority countries and even Pope Francis, who condemned Salwan Momica’s actions. The incident has also put the spotlight on Sweden’s freedom of expression laws, as courts overruled the initial rejection of applications to burn the Quran.

The situation remains tense as Iraq takes its stand on the matter and the international community closely monitors further developments between Iraq and Sweden.

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