Explainer: Who is Salwan Momika, the infamous Iraqi who burnt the Quran in Sweden and headed a militia

Explainer: Who is Salwan Momika, the infamous Iraqi who burnt the Quran in Sweden and headed a militia
Salwan Momika, the Iraqi man who burnt the Quran in Sweden, was an opportunist seeking public posts, Iraqi sources say.  

3 min read
06 July, 2023
Under a heavy police presence, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old who fled to Sweden several years ago, late on June stomped on the Quran before setting several pages alight in front of Stockholm's largest mosque. [Getty]

Popular protests continued across Iraq this week against the burning Quran by Salwan Momika, an Iraqi Christian man who also heads a militia in Nineveh before seeking refuge in Sweden.   

Momika, a 37-year-old Christian man from Al-Hamdaniya District, east of Mosul, stomped on the Islamic holy book and set several pages alight in front of the Swedish capital's largest mosque on 30 June.

Police had granted him a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections in the country.

Momika fled to Sweden several years ago, after being charged with several legal complaints, including deception.  Iraq has officially asked Sweden to repatriate him in order to be prosecuted according to the Iraqi penal code.

Lawyers told The New Arab that the man could be imprisoned for several years if tried in Iraq.

Momika told Swedish media on Thursday that he intended to burn another Quran, as well as the Iraqi flag, within 10 days.

Sources told TNA's Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that Momika was "an opportunist" seeking public fame, but had failed even to gain support from his Christian community in Iraq.

According to the outlet, the 'infamous' Momika also headed "Chaldean Eagles" militia in 2017, but he left the country after disputes with Ryan al-Kildani, leader of the "Babylon" political party, who was sanctioned by the US treasury department for illegal land confiscation charges in Nineveh. 

Entifadh Qanbar, President of the Future Foundation Washington DC, tweeted that Momika was a member of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a paramilitary force backed by Iran. 

"In this video, he identifies himself as a member of Iraqi Christian/Iran proxy militia formed by the IRGC 'Katae'b Rooh Issa' or 'The Spirit of Jesus Brigades' under the Command of Katae'b Imam Ali," Qanbar claimed. 

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The Islamic State proclaimed itself as a 'caliphate' following a meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria in 2014 that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory. 

It was eventually defeated in Iraq in 2017 and Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist group still carry out attacks in both countries.

"Momika does not own a clear thought, in the past years he changed his stances many times attempting to obtain any post inside Nineveh," previous close sources of the man told the outlet.

"Momika even tried to approach the Sadrist Movement; then he established ties with Sinjar Protection Units, a Yazidi militia seen as close to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). He tried to become a political influencer, but he failed to obtain any support from the Christian community in Nineveh," they added.  

Momika is married and has two sons. When arrived in Sweden, he volunteered to work at a right-extremist Swedish party known for its hostility towards migrants, Muslims, and Arabs, campaigning to deport Arab migrants from the country.

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Iraqi protesters breached Sweden's embassy in Baghdad on Thursday. A crowd of supporters of firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr stayed inside the compound for about 15 minutes, then left as security forces deployed.

Sadr had called on the Iraqi authorities to extradite Momika and expel the Sweden ambassador in Iraq.

Iraq's foreign ministry condemned Sweden's decision to grant an "extremist" permission to burn the Koran and said such acts "inflame the feelings of Muslims around the world and represent a dangerous provocation".

Late Thursday, the Iraqi foreign ministry said it had summoned the Swedish ambassador to Baghdad to inform her of the country's "strong protest" over the authorisation decision.