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Iraq expels Sweden's ambassador over Quran burning, after protests at Swedish Embassy

Protesters scale a wall at the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad Thursday. Protesters angered by the planned burning of a copy of the Quran stormed the Embassy early Thursday, breaking into the compound and lighting a small fire.
Ali Jabar
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AP
Protesters scale a wall at the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad Thursday. Protesters angered by the planned burning of a copy of the Quran stormed the Embassy early Thursday, breaking into the compound and lighting a small fire.

BEIRUT — Iraq has expelled Sweden's ambassador and recalled its top diplomatic representative from Sweden over the desecration of the Quran in the Nordic country.

The move came hours after protesters attacked the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad earlier Thursday, setting fire to part of the building.

The tensions between Iraq and Sweden began when an Iraqi national set fire to a copy of the Quran in the Swedish capital of Stockholm last month.

Then Swedish police granted a permit for another planned gathering that could include a burning of the Muslim holy book in public, according to news reports.

Two men did protest against Islam near the Iraqi Embassy in Stockholm on Thursday, stepping on and kicking a copy of the Quran, but they did not burn the book, The Associated Press reported. The news agency said the men also kicked an Iraqi flag and photos of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Iran's supreme leader.

Salwan Momika holds up the Quran and a sheet of paper showing the Iraqi flag outside the Iraqi Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday. Iraq warned Sweden it would cut diplomatic relations if a Quran-burning protest is allowed to go ahead in Stockholm, after protesters stormed and torched the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad overnight.
Oscar Olsson / TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images
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TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images
Salwan Momika holds up the Quran and a sheet of paper showing the Iraqi flag outside the Iraqi Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday. Iraq warned Sweden it would cut diplomatic relations if a Quran-burning protest is allowed to go ahead in Stockholm, after protesters stormed and torched the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad overnight.

The news set off angry protests in Iraq, with people storming the Swedish Embassy.

Sweden's government said embassy staff were moved to safety and accused the Iraqi authorities of failing to protect the diplomatic mission. The government also said it summoned the Iraqi chargé d'affaires (who runs the embassy an in the absence of an ambassador) in Stockholm to the foreign ministry.

Iraqi authorities condemned the attack on the Swedish Embassy. But Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani ordered the expulsion of Sweden's ambassador and recalled the Iraqi chargé d'affaires.

The right to assemble and protest is protected by Swedish law. But Sweden's justice minister told a national newspaper earlier this month that the government may be open to modifying rules around Quran protests after the backlash raised security concerns for Sweden and other European countries.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.