Protesters set ablaze Swedish embassy in Baghdad over Holy Quran desecration

Incident takes place ahead of planned event in Stockholm, where organisers eye burning copy of Quran, Iraqi flag

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A protester holds up a Quran as smoke rises from the Swedish embassy building as protesters gather near the embassy in Baghdad hours after it was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Quran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2023. — Reuters
A protester holds up a Quran as smoke rises from the Swedish embassy building as protesters gather near the embassy in Baghdad hours after it was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Quran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2023. — Reuters
  • Angry protesters torched Sweden's embassy in Baghdad. 
  • They were protesting against burning of the holy Quran in Sweden. 
  • Sweden allowed burning of Holy Quran planned for later today.


Scores of protesters in central Baghdad in the early hours of Thursday morning stormed the Swedish embassy, scaling its walls and setting it ablaze against the planned burning of the Holy Quran in Sweden.

All Baghdad embassy staff were safe, the Swedish foreign ministry press office said in a statement, condemning the attack and highlighting the need for Iraqi authorities to protect diplomatic missions.

Thursday's demonstration was called by supporters of cleric Muqtada Sadr to protest the second planned Quran burning in Sweden in weeks, according to posts in a popular Telegram group linked to the influential cleric and other pro-Sadr media.

Security forces deploy a water cannon as protesters gather near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad hours after the embassy was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Quran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2023. — Reuters
Security forces deploy a water cannon as protesters gather near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad hours after the embassy was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Quran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2023. — Reuters

Sadr, one of Iraq's most powerful figures, commands hundreds of thousands of followers whom he has at times called to the streets, including last summer when they occupied Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone and engaged in deadly clashes.

Swedish news agency TT reported on Wednesday that Swedish police granted an application for a public meeting outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday.

The application says the applicant seeks to burn the Quran and the Iraqi flag, TT reported.

A series of videos posted to the Telegram group, One Baghdad, showed people gathering around the embassy around 1am on Thursday (2200 GMT on Wednesday) chanting pro-Sadr slogans and storming the embassy complex around an hour later.

"Yes, yes to the Quran," protesters chanted.

Videos later showed smoke rising from a building in the embassy complex and protesters standing on its roof. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos.

Quran protests

Iraq's foreign ministry also condemned the incident and said in a statement the Iraqi government had instructed security forces to carry out a swift investigation, identify perpetrators and hold them to account.

By dawn on Thursday, security forces had deployed inside the embassy, and smoke rose from the building as fire-fighters extinguished stubborn embers, according to Reuters witnesses.

Most protesters had withdrawn, with a few dozen milling around outside the embassy.

Late last month, Sadr called for protests against Sweden and the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador after the Quran burning in Stockholm by an Iraqi man.

Protesters gather near the Swedish embassy which was stormed ahead of an expected Quran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq June 20, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. — Reuters
Protesters gather near the Swedish embassy which was stormed ahead of an expected Quran burning in Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq June 20, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. — Reuters

Swedish police charged the man with agitation against an ethnic or national group. In a newspaper interview, he described himself as an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban the Quran, the central religious text of Islam.

Two major protests took place outside of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in the aftermath of that Quran burning, with protesters breaching the embassy grounds on one occasion.

The governments of several Muslim countries, including Iraq, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Morocco issued protests about the incident, with Iraq seeking the man's extradition to face trial in the country.

The United States also condemned it, but added that Sweden's issuing of the permit supported freedom of expression and was not an endorsement of the action.


— Additional input from Reuters