How Quran Burnings Ignited Embassy Attacks in Iraq

After two separate incidents of Quran burning in Sweden and Denmark this July, emotions run extremely high in Iraq, where the Swedish embassy was torched down by protesters along with an attempt to storm the Danish diplomatic mission in the country’s capital Baghdad.

The Quran burnings in Copenhagen and Stockholm also caused a diplomatic storm between the Nordic nations and several Muslim countries, with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) suspending Sweden’s special envoy on July 23rd because of the “granting by the Swedish authorities of licenses that enabled the repeated abuse of the sanctity of the Holy Quran and Islamic symbols.

The Iraqi government also severed ties with Sweden, expelled its ambassador to Iraq, and recalled Iraq’s charge d’affaires. On the other hand, Sweden’s ambassadors in several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, and Jordan, were also summoned. The recent acts of Quran desecration also had economic consequences, as Iraq canceled work permits of employees working for the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson, which employs 30 full-time employees in the country.

The protests and violence that led to the destruction of the Swedish embassy in Iraq began when Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi Christian refugee living in Sweden, staged another protest where he and other protesters desecrated the Quran last July 20th. The demonstrators kicked and partially damaged the book during their protest but did not burn the Quran as they initially intended.

Momika already made headlines last June when he burned the Quran in front of the Stockholm Central Mosque during Eid al-Adha, sparking outcry and protests among Muslims worldwide. His new act incited outrage across Muslim countries again, prompting action from the Iraqi government and protesters.

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters, mainly followers of Iraqi Shia populist politician and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, marched to central Baghdad on July 20th, where they stormed the embassy, scaled down the walls of the compound where it stood, and set the embassy on fire. During a demonstration in Baghdad, dozens of people were also carrying pictures of al-Sadr and copies of the Quran.

The operations of the Swedish diplomatic mission were moved temporarily to Stockholm after Iraq severed ties with Sweden and protesters burned down the embassy. The Finnish embassy, located near the Swedish embassy, was evacuated the day before Momika’s planned protest and the destruction of the Swedish embassy.

Iraqi protesters also attempted to storm the Danish embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone. This heavily fortified area also serves as the seat of the Iraqi government and where many foreign embassies are also located. Iraqi security forces already blocked the Jumhuriya bridge that leads to the Green Zone and dispersed the nearly 1,000 protesters that marched to the embassy.

The protesters planned to storm the Danish embassy in reaction to a Danish far-right and ultranationalist group, Danske Patrioter, burning the Quran and the Iraqi flag in front of the Iraqi embassy and live-streaming the event on Facebook. Demonstrators also set fire to the Danish Refugee Council in Iraq’s Basra governorate in a separate incident.

Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also strongly condemned the Quran-burning incident in Copenhagen and “in strong and repeated terms, the incident of abuse against the Holy Quran and the flag of the Republic of Iraq in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Denmark” in its statement.

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