Swedish embassy in Iraq relocates after attack over Quran burning

Swedish telecoms company Ericsson is also looking into reports that Iraq has suspended its work permits there.

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn flags as they take part in a protest after the embassy was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Koran burning in Stockholm
Supporters of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr burn flags as they take part in a protest on Friday [Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters]

The Swedish embassy in Iraq is temporarily moving operations to Stockholm, the country’s foreign ministry has said, a day after it was attacked in protest against a second event held to desecrate the Quran in Sweden.

“The embassy’s operations and its expatriate staff have been temporarily relocated to Stockholm for security reasons,” the foreign ministry said on Friday.

Hundreds of Iraqis, mainly followers of the populist Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, stormed the embassy in central Baghdad early on Thursday and set it on fire. The Iraqi government later expelled the Swedish ambassador.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said that the storming of the embassy was “completely unacceptable” and that government strongly rejected desecrations of the Quran or any other holy scripture.

“The Swedish Government understands that the despicable acts committed by individuals at demonstrations in Sweden may be offensive to Muslims,” he said in a statement.

The embassy’s move also comes as the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson said it was looking into reports that Iraq had suspended the work permits of its employees.

Iraqi state media reported on Thursday that Baghdad suspended the permits in protest against the Quran desecration event, but on Friday the Iraqi prime minister’s foreign affairs advisor Farhad Alaadin said that Ericsson had not been suspended.

“All contractual agreements made by the government of Iraq will be respected and no company have been suspended from its work, including Ericsson,” Alaaldin said.

A spokesperson for the company said the incidents in Sweden were “deeply offensive to the religious beliefs and values cherished by Muslims around the world” and did “not reflect Ericsson’s core value of respect.”

Ericsson has about 30 full-time employees in Iraq, whose safety is the company’s top priority, they added.

“We respect all cultures and religions, and we place great importance on respecting our customers and our employees – and the communities in which we operate,” the spokesperson said.

“It is deeply problematic when freedom of expression turns to alienation between different cultures or religions.”

A demonstration was held on Thursday in Stockholm where provocateurs kicked and partially damaged a book they said was the Quran. The protesters did not burn the book as they had initially threatened to do.

The event in Stockholm was planned by Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Christian Iraqi refugee in Sweden, who also burned pages of a Quran on June 28, the earlier incident prompting mass protests in Iraq and condemnations from Muslim-majority countries.

Reactions from the Middle East poured in on Friday, while Western countries condemned the storming of the Swedish embassy in Iraq.

Protests took place in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon to denounce Sweden’s permission for the desecration of the Quran.

In Baghdad, dozens of people carried copies of the Muslim holy book and portraits of the Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during a demonstration.

Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities including Mashhad, Tabriz and Isfahan heeded a call from authorities for nationwide demonstrations after Friday prayers.

In Tehran, hundreds of protesters, waving Iranian flags and carrying copies of Islam’s holy book, chanted “Down with the United States, Britain, Israel and Sweden” as some set the blue-and-yellow Swedish flag ablaze.

Demonstrators burn the Swedish flag during a protest against the insult to the Koran in Stockholm
Demonstrators burn the Swedish flag during a protest in Tehran [Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

Dozens of mostly black-clad demonstrators gathered outside Sweden’s Tehran embassy amid tight security and demanded its closure and the expulsion of Sweden’s ambassador.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Tehran holds “the Swedish government fully responsible for the consequences of inciting the feelings of Muslims around the world”.

Kanani condemned “any insult to religious sanctities and holy books anywhere and by anyone”, arguing “freedom of speech used to attack dignity, morals and religious sanctities… has no value”.

In Lebanon, crowds gathered outside mosques to demonstrate, following a call by the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah for protests after Friday prayers, footage broadcast by Hezbollah’s al-Manar television showed.

Lebanese Muslims participate in a demonstration called by the Shi'ite group Hezbollah
Several hundreds protesters gathered in Beirut’s southern suburbs [Emilie Madi/Reuters]

In Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold in the south east, a Swedish flag was burnt during a protest by hundreds of people, al-Manar footage showed.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called for expulsion of the Swedish envoy there and the recall of Lebanon’s ambassador to Sweden.

“It’s the minimum required,” he said on Thursday.

Sweden’s ambassadors were summoned in various countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Jordan.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies