Protesters set fire to the Swedish embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad early Thursday, an AFP journalist said, ahead of a planned Koran burning in Sweden.
Swedish authorities have approved an assembly to be held later Thursday outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm, where organizers plan to burn a copy of the Koran as well as the Iraqi flag.
Events in Sweden angered Iraqis, and supporters of embattled religious leader Moqtada Sadr organized a protest in Baghdad on Thursday.
Some protesters raised copies of the Koran in the air, while others held portraits of Mohamed al-Sadr, an important religious cleric and Moqtada Sadr’s father.
“We are mobilized today to denounce the burning of the Koran, which is about love and faith,” protester Hassan Ahmed told AFP. “We demand that the Swedish government and the Iraqi government stop this kind of initiative.”
“We didn’t wait until the morning, we broke in at dawn and set fire to the Swedish embassy,” a young demonstrator in Baghdad told AFP on Thursday, before Moqtada’s name was chanted.
Sweden’s foreign ministry told AFP that its embassy staff in Baghdad were “safe” after the incident.
“The Iraqi authorities are responsible for protecting diplomatic missions and their staff”, the ministry said, adding that attacks on embassies and diplomats “are a serious violation of the Vienna Convention”.
Several trucks arrived to put out the fire at the embassy, where skirmishes broke out between Iraqi security forces and demonstrators, an AFP photographer said.
It was not immediately clear whether the embassy was empty at the time of the attack or whether staff had been evacuated.
The Iraqi foreign ministry condemned the torching of the embassy and called on the security forces to identify those responsible.
“The Iraqi government has instructed the relevant security services to conduct an urgent investigation and take all necessary measures to reveal the circumstances of the incident and identify the perpetrators,” the ministry said in a statement.
Swedish media reported that Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden, had organized the event in Stockholm on Thursday.
Salwan burned a few pages of a copy of the Koran in front of the main mosque in Stockholm on June 28 during Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.
The incident prompted supporters of Moqtada, an influential religious leader and political dissident in Iraq, to storm the Swedish embassy in Baghdad the next day.
Moqtada has repeatedly mobilized thousands of demonstrators into the streets.
In the summer of 2022, his supporters invaded the Baghdad parliament building and staged a sit-in that lasted several weeks.
At the time, Moqtada was involved in a political space regarding the appointment of a prime minister.