Protesters angered by the burning of a copy of the Qur’an stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad early Thursday, breaking into the compound and lighting a small fire.
Online videos showed demonstrators at the diplomatic post waving flags and signs showing the influential Iraqi Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr. It wasn’t clear if there were any staff inside the complex at the time.
The videos showed dozens of men climbing over the fence at the complex, with the sound of them trying to break down a front door. Another showed what appeared to be a small fire being set.
Other footage showed men, some shirtless in the summer heat, inside what appeared to be a room at the embassy, an alarm audible in the background.
Others later performed predawn prayers outside of the embassy.
As dawn broke, police and other security officials gathered at the embassy as small plumes of smoke still rose. Firefighters tried to douse the flames from the ladder of a fire truck. Some demonstrators still stood at the site, holding placards showing al-Sadr’s face, apparently left alone by police.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “our embassy staff are in safety,” without elaborating.
“We condemn all attacks on diplomats and staff from international organizations,” the ministry said.
“Attacks on embassies and diplomats constitute a serious violation of the Vienna Convention. Iraqi authorities have the responsibility to protect diplomatic missions and diplomatic staff.”
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry also issued a statement condemning the attack, without explaining how it allowed the breach to happen or identifying who carried out the assault.
“The Iraqi government has instructed the competent security authorities to conduct an urgent investigation and take the necessary security measures in order to uncover the circumstances of the incident and identify the perpetrators of this act and hold them accountable according to the law,” the ministry said.
Iraqi police and state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack.
Past Qur’an burnings in Sweden
The demonstrations began after a man planned, under police protection, to burn a copy of the Qur’an and the Torah, the Jewish holy book, outside of the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm this Saturday. However, the man reportedly had abandoned his plan.
The right to hold public demonstrations is strong in Sweden and protected by the constitution. Blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s.
For Muslims, the burning of the Qur’an represents a blasphemous desecration of their religion’s holy text. Qur’an burnings in the past have sparked protests across the Muslim world, some turning violent.
An Iraqi Christian immigrant last month burned a Qur’an outside a Stockholm mosque during the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, triggering widespread condemnation in the Islamic world. A similar protest by a far-right activist was held outside Turkey’s Embassy earlier this year, complicating Sweden’s efforts to convince Turkey to let it join NATO.
In June, protesters stormed the embassy in Baghdad during daylight hours over that Qur’an burning. Another day of protests saw thousands of demonstrators on the streets in the country. Protesters then, as well as early Thursday, called on Iraqi officials to expel Sweden’s ambassador to Iraq.