Several thousand Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad on Saturday to protest against the burning or damaging of the Quran during anti-Islam demonstrations in Sweden and Denmark, in a rally organized by ruling Iraqi parties and armed groups, many of them close to Iran.
The protesters gathered in central Baghdad amid heavy security measures, holding banners that read “The Quran is our constitution” and “We will not forgive those who insult our religion”. They chanted slogans denouncing the attacks on the holy book and calling for the expulsion of the Swedish and Danish ambassadors.
The protest came after an attempt by some demonstrators to storm the Danish Embassy in the early hours of Saturday, which was repelled by Iraqi security forces who fired tear gas, according to a government source. The source said no casualties were reported and no damage was done to the embassy building.
The attempt followed an attack on the Swedish Embassy on Thursday, when protesters broke into the compound and set it on fire, in response to a planned burning of the Quran by a far-right group in Stockholm. The group, called Stram Kurs (Hard Line), had announced its intention to burn a copy of the Quran in a public square, but was prevented by the police from doing so. However, some protesters kicked and partially destroyed a book they claimed was the Quran and left the scene after an hour.
Iraq condemned the attack on the Swedish Embassy but also expelled the Swedish ambassador in protest at the planned burning of the Quran, which is considered a sacred text by Muslims. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had summoned the Swedish envoy and handed him a note of protest, demanding an apology from the Swedish government and legal action against those involved in the incident.
On Friday, another anti-Islam group in Denmark, called Danish Patriots, set fire to a book purported to be the Quran on a square across from the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen. The event was livestreamed on Facebook, showing the book burning in a tin foil tray next to an Iraqi flag on the ground, with two men standing and talking next to it.
The Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen condemned the act as an “act of stupidity” by a few individuals, telling national broadcaster DR: “It is a disgraceful act to insult the religion of others”. He added: “This applies to the burning of Qurans and other religious symbols. It has no other purpose than to provoke and create division”. He noted, however, that burning religious books was not a crime in Denmark.
The Quran burnings in Sweden and Denmark have sparked outrage across the Muslim world, with several Middle Eastern countries summoning Swedish diplomats to express their anger and demand an apology. Iran’s foreign ministry summoned both the Swedish and Danish ambassadors on Friday and Saturday respectively, to protest against “the desecration of the Quran” in both countries. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that those who burned the Quran deserved “the most severe punishment” and called on Sweden to hand over the perpetrators to “the judicial systems of Islamic countries”.
Quran burnings are permitted in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, which all have legal protections for freedom of speech. However, many Muslims consider such acts as a grave insult to their faith and a provocation that could incite violence.