BAGHDAD – Iraq expelled the Swedish ambassador on Thursday in protest at a planned burning of the 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 who burned the 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.
In the event, the protesters kicked and partially destroyed a book they said was the Quran but left the area after an hour without setting it alight. The Quran, the central religious text of Islam, is believed by Muslims to be a revelation from God.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said staff at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad were safe but Iraqi authorities had failed in their responsibility to protect the embassy.
Late on Thursday, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned Sweden’s ambassador in Tehran to “strongly protest against the desecration of the holy Quran”, state media reported, while Turkey called events in Stockholm a “despicable attack.”
A Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed the ambassador was summoned due to the events in Stockholm but declined to comment on what was said during the meeting.
The head of Lebanon’s powerful armed group Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, called on Arab and Islamic nations to follow Iraq in expelling Sweden’s ambassadors and withdrawing their envoys from Sweden.
The Iraqi government condemned the assault on the 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 Quran on Swedish soil would necessitate severing diplomatic relations”, the statement said.
The decision to recall the charge d’affaires came while the protest in Stockholm had started but before the protesters had left without burning the 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 condemned the attack on the embassy and criticised Iraq’s security forces for not preventing protesters from breaching the diplomatic post.
The European Union said it looked forward to “swift adoption of the necessary security measures” by Iraq to prevent further incidents.
Thursday’s demonstration was called by supporters of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to protest at the second planned Quran burning in Sweden in weeks, according to posts in a 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 on Thursday, telling a press conference the U.S. “has no right to condemn the burning of the Swedish embassy but should have condemned the burning of the Quran.”