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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Swedish Ambassador Expelled from Iraq Over Koran Burning Protests

Iraq expelled the Swedish ambassador on Thursday in protest at a planned burning of the Koran in Stockholm that had prompted hundreds of protesters to storm. It set alight the Swedish embassy in the Iraqi capital. An Iraqi government statement added that Baghdad was also recalling its charge d’affaires in Sweden and suspending the working permit of Sweden’s Ericsson on Iraqi soil. “The embassy in Baghdad is closed to the public until further notice,” the government statement said. The move came hours after Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani told Sweden it would sever diplomatic ties if the embassy were attacked again. An embassy statement said staff were safe, though plumes of smoke were still visible as police blocked roads leading to the complex and firefighters worked to extinguish stubborn embers.

The protests were called by supporters of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to urge Sweden to stop the second planned Koran burning in recent weeks, according to posts on a popular Telegram channel that supports Sadr and other pro-Sadr media outlets. The first incident was burning pages from a Koran in front of a mosque in Stockholm last month during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday celebrated by millions worldwide. That incident prompted several Muslim governments to protest against Sweden and call for the man behind it, Salwan Momika, to be extradited and tried in court.

Videos posted online by One Baghdad, a Telegram channel widely seen as supportive of Sadr, showed crowds gathered outside the Iraqi capital and marching toward the embassy complex. A video on the channel showed a large group of people climbing over the fence and entering the embassy complex.

The video later showed protesters chanting slogans and standing on top of buildings in the embassy compound as smoke rose from some of them. Some wore clothes that displayed the image of Sadr, a revered figure in the majority Shiite country battling to reclaim power from his political enemies.

After the protests, a few dozen police charged at a group of protesters who had remained outside the embassy and were holding placards that featured the face of Sadr, reports from the scene said. Some of the protesters were shirtless in the summer heat.

As dawn broke, most of the protesters had withdrawn, and only small plumes of smoke remained visible from the embassy. Some demonstrators held up the Quran in the air while others held up portraits of Sadr’s late father, an influential cleric revered in Iraq.

In a separate development, a Turkish court issued an arrest warrant for Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, who is suspected of insulting Islam and the Quran after he burned a Koran in front of a Turkish embassy in January. He has been banned from leaving the country, and his case is under review by prosecutors.

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