Iraq expels Swedish ambassador over planned Koran burning

  • Iraq Storm Burns Swedish Embassy
  • Iraq Suspends Ericsson’s Work Permit – News Agency
  • Protesters partially destroyed a book they said was the Koran
  • But he left it without setting fire
  • Koran burning complicates Sweden’s NATO bid

BAGHDAD/STOCKHOLM, July 20 (Reuters) – Iraq expelled Sweden’s ambassador on Thursday in protest at a planned Koran burning in Stockholm that prompted hundreds of protesters to attack and set fire to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.

An Iraqi government statement said Baghdad had also withdrawn its custodians in Sweden, and Iraq had suspended Sweden’s Ericsson’s work permit on Iraqi soil, the Iraqi state news agency said.

Anti-Islamic protesters, who were among Iraqi immigrants to Sweden who burned a Koran outside a Stockholm mosque in June, applied to Swedish police for permission to burn a Koran outside the Iraqi embassy on Thursday.

In the event, protesters kicked and partially destroyed a book they said was the Koran but left the scene an hour later without burning it. Islam’s central religious book, the Koran, is believed by Muslims to have been revealed by God.

Embassy staff are safe but Iraqi authorities have failed in their responsibility to protect the embassy, ​​Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said.

The Iraqi government strongly condemned the burning of the Swedish embassy, ​​declaring it a breach of security, according to a statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani’s office, and pledged to protect diplomatic missions.

But Baghdad “informed the Swedish government that it would be necessary to sever diplomatic ties if the incident involving the burning of the Holy Quran on Swedish soil is repeated,” the statement said.

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As the protest began in Stockholm, the decision to recall those responsible to Sweden came before protesters left without burning the Koran.

Billstrom said that the attack on the embassy was totally unacceptable and the government strongly condemned these attacks. He added: “The government has been in contact with high-level Iraqi representatives to express our dismay.”

In Washington, the State Department strongly condemned the attack on the embassy and criticized Iraq’s security forces for not preventing protesters from breaching the diplomatic post.

The European Union also strongly condemned the attack and said it looked forward to Iraq “swiftly adopting the necessary security measures” to prevent further incidents.

Thursday’s demonstration called for a protest against the second Koran burning planned in Sweden in weeks by supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to posts on the Telegram group linked to the influential cleric and other pro-Sadr media outlets.

Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful figures, commands hundreds of thousands of followers who have sometimes called for the streets, including last summer when they occupied Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and engaged in deadly clashes.

He stood by the embassy on Thursday, telling a press conference that “the United States has no right to condemn the burning of the Swedish embassy, ​​but it should have condemned the burning of the Koran.”

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A headache for the Swedish government

Several videos posted on the Telegram group One Baghdad showed people gathering around the Swedish embassy around 1 a.m. Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday) chanting pro-Sadr slogans and storming the embassy compound an hour later.

“Yes, yes to the Koran,” protesters chanted.

Videos later showed smoke rising from a building in the embassy compound and protesters standing on its roof.

By dawn on Thursday, security forces were stationed inside the embassy and smoke billowed from the building as firefighters put out stubborn matches, according to Reuters witnesses.

Sweden has seen several Koran burnings in recent years, mostly by far-right and anti-Muslim activists. Some of the fires have sparked clashes between police and Muslim protesters in Sweden.

The burning caused outrage in the Muslim world. Swedish security services said such actions made the country less secure.

Earlier this year police rejected some applications for protests including Koran burnings, citing security reasons, and courts overturned those decisions, saying such acts were protected by Sweden’s far-reaching free speech laws.

Freedom of speech laws are protected by the constitution and cannot be easily changed, but the government has said it is considering changes to the law that would allow police to prevent public burnings if they pose a risk to Sweden’s security.

The flare-up also complicated Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Although Turkey said it would approve Sweden’s application this month, the previous flare-up angered Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristerson, criticized the burnings, saying that while they were legal, they were inappropriate.

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Reporting by Timor Azhari, Anna Ringstrom and Subanta Mukherjee; Additional reporting by Johan Ahlander and Marie Mannes in Stockholm, Louis Brusch Rasmussen in Copenhagen, and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; By Timor Azhari and Johan Ahlander; Editing by Tom Hogue/Tom Berry, Lincoln Feist, Bernadette Baum, William McLean

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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