Hundreds of protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in central Baghdad in the early hours of Thursday morning, scaling its walls and setting it on fire in protest against the expected desecration 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. The ministry did not immediately reply to a request for further detail.
Thursday’s demonstration was called by supporters of cleric Muqtada Sadr to protest the second planned desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden in weeks, according to posts in a popular Telegram group linked 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.
Swedish police on Wednesday granted an application for a public meeting outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday, the police permit showed. Police said in the permit two people were expected to participate.
Swedish news agency TT reported that the two planned to desecrate the Holy Quran and the Iraqi flag at the public meeting, and included a man who desecrated the Holy Quran outside a Stockholm mosque in June.
Swedish police denied several applications earlier this year for protests that were set to include desecration of the Holy Quran, citing security concerns. Courts have since overturned the police’s decisions, saying such acts are protected by the country’s far-reaching freedom of speech laws.
A series of videos posted to the Telegram group, One Baghdad, showed people gathering around the Swedish embassy around 1 a.m. on Thursday (2200 GMT on Wednesday) chanting pro-Sadr slogans and storming the embassy complex around an hour later.
Videos later showed smoke rising from a building in the embassy complex and protesters standing on its roof.
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.
Iraqi security forces later charged at a few dozen protesters still milling around outside the embassy in an attempt to clear them from the area. Protesters had earlier briefly thrown rocks and projectiles towards the large number of security forces gathered.
Late last month, Sadr called for protests against Sweden and the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador after the desecratrion of the Holy Quran in Stockholm by an Iraqi man.
After the incident, the man was reported to police for agitation against an ethnic or national group. In a newspaper interview, he described himself as an Iraqi refugee seeking to “ban the Holy Quran”.
Two major protests took place outside of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in the aftermath of that incident, 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.