Iraq, Iran act against Sweden after Quran protests

Iraq, Iran act against Sweden after Quran protests
Protests broke in several countries including Iraq and Iran against the act of Quran burning in Sweden.
4 min read
A man holds Quran as people gather after Friday prayers to protest against the act of Quran burning, in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Demonstrators marched in the Iraqi and Iranian capitals Friday to denounce Sweden's permission for protests that desecrate the Quran, as Stockholm withdrew staff from its Baghdad embassy.

Hundreds of people gathered in Baghdad's Sadr City after Friday prayers, chanting "Yes, yes to Islam, yes, yes to the Quran ", an AFP correspondent said.

In Tehran, protesters waving Iranian flags and carrying copies of Islam's holy book chanted "Down with the United States, Britain, Israel and Sweden" as some burned the Swedish flag.

Iran said late Friday it will not allow a new Swedish ambassador into the country.

The rallies came amid heightened tensions between Stockholm and Baghdad over a Sweden-based Iraqi refugee who last month burnt pages of the Quran outside Stockholm's main mosque.

In the latest such incident on Thursday, the refugee, Salwan Momika, stepped on the Quran but did not burn it. His act triggered renewed condemnation across the Muslim world.

Sweden on Friday cited security concerns in a decision to relocate embassy staff after protesters stormed its embassy compound in a pre-dawn attack this week.

"The embassy's operations and its expatriate staff have been temporarily relocated to Stockholm for security reasons," the Swedish foreign ministry said.

Iraq condemned the embassy attack but retaliated against the Stockholm protest by expelling its ambassador, vowing to sever ties and saying it was suspending the operating licence of Swedish telecom giant Ericsson.

But an adviser to the premier told foreign journalists Friday that contractual agreements would be respected, and "no company has been suspended, not even Ericsson".

Live Story


In Baghdad's Sadr City protester Sabbah al-Tai, 45, said expelling Sweden's ambassador was not enough.

"We want more," he said.

Crowds gathered there at the order of influential Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose followers were behind the embassy raid late Wednesday.

Some protesters burned rainbow flags which Sadr says highlight the "double standard" of Western governments in defending LGBTQ rights while allowing the desecration of religious texts.

"Through this demonstration, we want to send a message to the United Nations," said Amer Shemal, a municipal official, urging member states to "penalise any desecration of holy books -- those of Islam, of Christianity, of Judaism".

Regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran said separately late Thursday they had summoned Swedish diplomats to protest against Stockholm allowing Momika's actions on free speech grounds.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, said it would urge Sweden "to take all immediate and necessary measures to stop these disgraceful acts", a foreign ministry statement said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke to his Swedish counterpart Tobias Billstrom by phone on Friday.

"The person who committed this unforgivable insult must be arrested, tried, and held accountable for his actions," a foreign ministry statement quoted him as saying.

A later statement said the Swedish ambassador's mandate in Tehran had ended, and "until the Swedish government takes a serious action over the desecration of Holy Quran, we will not accept the new Swedish ambassador and the Iranian ambassador will not be sent to Sweden".

Protesters across the Islamic republic had earlier heeded a call from authorities for nationwide demonstrations after Friday prayers, with dozens gathering outside Sweden's Tehran embassy to demand its closure.

Protesters threw eggs and tomatoes at the building and staged a sit-in before dispersing, an AFP journalist said.


'Keep burning' 

Sweden's decision to authorise the protest has drawn widespread condemnation from Arab and Muslim countries, including Oman and Kuwait, as well as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates which both summoned Sweden's charges d'affaires.

The British foreign office also condemned the Quran protest, calling it "deeply insulting to Muslims around the world and completely inappropriate".

Kuwait said it was coordinating with Arab states to hold an emergency meeting of the 57-member Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to take "concrete and practical" measures so such an insult to the Quran would not be repeated, according to the state news agency.

In an interview published Friday, Momika -- who describes himself as an atheist -- defended his actions and said they were meant to highlight discrimination against minority groups in Iraq.

"My book-burning was carried out within the bounds of Swedish law," he told French magazine Marianne. "I will keep burning Qurans as long as I am legally allowed to."

Billstrom called Momika's protest "a clear provocation" that "in no way reflects the Swedish government's opinions", while also stressing a "constitutional right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate".

Supporters of the pro-Iran Hezbollah movement rallied in Lebanon Friday, AFP photographers said. Many protesters chanted that they would "protect God's book" with their "blood".