Iraqis and Iranians rally as Swedish diplomats leave Baghdad in Quran row

Iraqis and Iranians rally as Swedish diplomats leave Baghdad in Quran row
After numerous incidents involving the burning or desecration of the Quran, Iraqis and Iranians have taken to the streets to protest against Sweden, calling for the Scandinavian country to protect the holy book.
3 min read
21 July, 2023
Iraqis gathered in Sadr City to protest the Quran burning {Getty}

Protesters took to the streets of the Iraqi and Iranian capitals Friday to denounce Sweden's permission for protests that desecrate the Koran, 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, hundreds of protesters, waving Iranian flags and carrying copies of Islam's holy book, chanted "Down with the United States, Britain, Israel and Sweden" as some set the blue-and-yellow Swedish flag ablaze.

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

Live Story

In the latest such incident on Thursday, the refugee, Salwan Momika, stepped on the Quran but did not burn it, triggering renewed condemnation and calls for protest across the Muslim world.

Sweden on Friday cited security concerns in a decision to relocate embassy staff and operations from Baghdad, after protesters stormed its embassy compound in a pre-dawn raid 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 also retaliated against the protest in Sweden by expelling its ambassador, vowing to sever ties and suspending the operating licence of Swedish telecom giant Ericsson.

"The expulsion of the ambassador is too little, we want more," said protester Sabbah al-Tai, 45, in Sadr City, a working-class district of Baghdad.

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

Live Story

'Double standards'

Carrying parasols as shields from the baking heat, some protesters burned rainbow flags. Sadr says such symbols 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 Sadr City municipality official, urging member states to "penalise any desecration of holy books -- those of Islam, of Christianity, of Judaism".

"These are all holy books," said Shemal.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Tehran holds "the Swedish government fully responsible for the consequences of inciting the feelings of Muslims around the world".

Live Story

Kanani condemned "any insult to religious sanctities and holy books anywhere and by anyone", arguing "freedom of speech used to attack dignity, morals and religious sanctities... has no value".

Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities including Mashhad, Tabriz and Isfahan heeded a call from authorities for nationwide demonstrations after Friday prayers.

Dozens of mostly black-clad demonstrators gathered outside Sweden's Tehran embassy amid tight security and demanded its closure and the expulsion of Sweden's ambassador.