Muqtada al-Sadr Warns Sweden against Burning the Iraqi Flag and Quran After Fire Erupts at Its Embassy, Prompting Stockholm to Protest and Summon the Iraqi Chargé d’Affaires
On Thursday, Iraq threatened to “sever diplomatic relations with Sweden” if the Quran is burned again on its soil, escalating tensions after the Swedish embassy in Baghdad was set on fire during a demonstration in protest of a planned Quran burning in Stockholm.
A statement issued by the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi following a security meeting said that the Iraqi government “informed the Swedish government yesterday (Wednesday) through diplomatic channels of its intention to sever diplomatic relations with Sweden in the event of a repeat of the incident of burning the Quran on its soil.”
Leader of the Sadrist Movement Muqtada al-Sadr warned Sweden against allowing the burning of the Iraqi flag and Quran, stressing that he is awaiting an official response from the Iraqi government.
In a tweet on Twitter, al-Sadr said, “After Sweden declared its hostility to Islam and the heavenly and esoteric celestial books, it has now crossed diplomatic lines and political norms by declaring hostility to Iraq, as it approved the burning of the Iraqi flag.”
He added, “I am here waiting for a firm official response before taking any personal action.”
He continued, “According to my understanding, if the Iraqi flag is indeed burned, the government should not be satisfied with condemnation and denunciation, as that indicates weakness and surrender. Burning the Quran again should not be met with burning the Torah and Bible. It is the responsibility of the people of the world to support the heavens, or else, we may face undesirable consequences. Stay vigilant and avoid regrets.”
Simultaneously, Sweden announced that it had summoned the Iraqi chargé d’affaires in Stockholm following the burning of its embassy in Baghdad during a demonstration early Thursday, protesting a planned gathering in Sweden to burn a copy of the Quran and the Iraqi flag.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said, “What happened is utterly unacceptable, and the government condemns these attacks in the strongest terms.”
He added in a statement, “It is clear that the Iraqi authorities are dangerously failing to fulfill their responsibility to protect diplomatic missions and diplomats.”
The fire erupted at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad early Thursday during a protest organized by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, before a gathering in Sweden in front of the Iraqi embassy, where the organizer planned to burn a copy of the Quran.
Smoke was seen rising from the building of the Swedish mission in a neighborhood where the embassy is located, surrounded by dozens of protesters with a heavy presence of riot police.
A number of fire trucks were deployed at the site of the fire, according to the French Press Agency.
On Thursday morning, Iraqi riot police used water hoses and batons to disperse protesters and keep them away from the embassy, with the protesters responding by throwing stones at the security forces.
Earlier on Thursday, the Swedish Foreign Ministry confirmed that its embassy staff in Baghdad “are in a safe location.” In response to a query from the French Press Agency via email, the ministry said, “We are aware of the situation. Our embassy staff (in Iraq) are in a safe location, and the embassy is in continuous contact with them.”
The ministry stated that “the Iraqi authorities are responsible for the protection of diplomatic missions and their staff,” emphasizing that attacking embassies and diplomats “constitutes a serious violation of the Vienna Convention.”
The attack on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad came after the Swedish police allowed a small gathering on Thursday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. GMT in front of the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm, during which the organizer intends to burn a copy of the Quran and the Iraqi flag.
Some of the protesters who gathered around the Swedish embassy in Baghdad early Thursday raised copies of the Quran, while others raised pictures of the late Shiite reference Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr’s father.
Protester Hassan Ahmed Wabib said in front of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, “We came out today to denounce the burning of the Quran, which is a Quran for humanity, love, and faith. Our demands from the Swedish government and the Iraqi government are to stop this action.”
Another young protester without revealing his name said, “We could not wait (until the morning) and entered it (the embassy) at dawn, and (…) we burned the Swedish embassy,” chanting “Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada.”
The protester added that “the sons of the Sadrist Movement” took action after the Iraqi refugee in Sweden, Sohail Mumica, was allowed to burn a copy of the Quran again in Sweden.
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned in a statement on Thursday the burning of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sweden in Baghdad, considering that “this act comes in the context of attacks on diplomatic missions and threats to their security.”
The statement mentioned that “the Iraqi government instructed the competent security authorities to conduct an urgent investigation and take the necessary security measures to reveal the circumstances of the incident and identify the identity of the perpetrators and hold them accountable according to the law.”
Mumika, who wants to burn the Quran in Sweden, is an Iraqi refugee there. On June 28, he also burned pages of a copy of the Quran in front of the largest mosque in Stockholm on Eid al-Adha.
The Swedish police confirmed on Wednesday that permission was not granted based on an official request to burn religious books, but rather for the establishment of a public gathering where “opinions” can be expressed under the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
A spokesperson for the Swedish police stated that this does not mean they approve of what will take place.
Mumika’s burning of pages from the Quran in June led supporters of the Sadr movement in Iraq to storm the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on June 29.
At that time, the protesters remained inside the embassy for about fifteen minutes before leaving, while Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi government strongly condemned what Salwan Mumika did in Sweden.
Similar acts often occur in Sweden and other European countries, initiated by far-right groups, and such actions provoke reactions in the Islamic world and draw international condemnation.
Several Islamic countries, including Iraq, Turkey, the UAE, Jordan, and Morocco, have expressed protests over the incident, and Iraq seeks to extradite the man for trial.
The United States also condemned the incident, but stated that Sweden’s issuance of the permit supports freedom of expression and is not an endorsement of the action.
The first burning of the Quran occurred in January, carried out by the Swedish-Danish right-wing extremist Rasmus Paludan in protest of Sweden’s bid to join NATO and negotiate with Turkey for that purpose.
Muqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to mobilize the streets in Iraq. In the summer of 2022, his supporters stormed the Iraqi parliament and staged a sit-in for weeks while he was in a political dispute with other Shia factions over the selection of the Prime Minister.