BAGHDAD/STOCKHOLM: Iraq expelled the Swedish ambassador on Thursday in protest at a planned burning of the Holy Quran in Stockholm that had prompted hundreds of protesters to storm and set alight the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.
An Iraqi government statement said Baghdad had also recalled its charge d’affaires in Sweden, and Iraq’s state news agency reported that Iraq had suspended the working permit of Sweden’s Ericsson on Iraqi soil.
Anti-Islam protesters, one of whom is an Iraqi immigrant to Sweden that burned the Holy Quran outside a Stockholm mosque in June, had applied for and received permission from Swedish police to burn the Quran outside the Iraqi embassy on Thursday.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said embassy staff were safe but Iraqi authorities had failed in their responsibility to protect the embassy.
The Iraqi government strongly condemned the burning of the Swedish embassy, according to a statement from the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani which declared it a security breach and vowed to protect diplomatic missions.
But Baghdad had also “informed the Swedish government ... that any recurrence of the incident involving the burning of the Holy Qur’an on Swedish soil would necessitate severing diplomatic relations”, the statement said. The decision to recall the charge d’affaires to Sweden came while the protest in Stockholm had started but before the protesters had left without burning the Holy Quran.
Billstrom said the storming of the embassy was “completely unacceptable and the government strongly condemns these attacks”. He added: “The government is 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.
Thursday’s demonstration was called by supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to protest against 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.
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.
He stood by the embassy storming in a press conference on Thursday afternoon, saying the US “has no right to condemn the burning of the Swedish embassy but should have condemned the burning of the Holy Quran.”
Finnish news agency STT reported that the Finnish embassy, which is in part of the same enclosure as the Swedish, had also been evacuated but that staff were safe and unhurt.