The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was set on fire early Thursday morning during a demonstration organized by the followers of an Iraqi religious leader hours before the public burning of a Koran in the Scandinavian country. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured AFP in an email that its staff “are safe.” “Our embassy staff are safe and in regular contact with the Ministry,” the source said.
Several Iraqi civil defense trucks moved in front of the embassy to try to extinguish the flames, which were causing significant smoke in the area. A strong contingent of riot control units was also deployed, firing with water cannons to disperse dozens of protesterswho responded with throwing stones at the agents.
The incident occurred after Swedish police authorized a demonstration on Thursday outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm whose organizer plans to burn a Koran and an Iraqi flag. The protest in Baghdad was organized by followers of influential religious leader Moqtada Sadr.
“We have not waited for morning, we have entered at dawn, we have set fire to the Swedish embassy,” a young protester in Baghdad who chanted the name of the Shiite leader told AFP on Thursday.
Around the diplomatic building, some protesters displayed copies of the Koran and portraits of Mohamed Sadr, an important religious cleric and Moqtada’s father, an AFP journalist found. “We have mobilized to denounce the fact of burning the Koran, which is nothing more than love and faith”Hassan Ahmed told AFP. “We demand the Swedish government and the Iraqi government to stop these kinds of initiatives,” he added.