© Reuters. Iraqi demonstrators hold a Quran during a protest near the Green Zone against the burning of a copy of the Quran and the Iraqi flag in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, in Baghdad, Iraq July 22, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Al-Mawsili
By Taimoor Azhari and Haider Kazem
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad on Saturday against the burning or destruction of the Koran during anti-Islam protests in Sweden and Denmark, in a rally called by Iraq’s ruling parties and armed groups, many of them close to Iran.
Iran’s supreme leader said those who violate the Koran should face the “harmless punishment” and that by defending the perpetrators, Sweden was preparing for “war” against Muslims.
Many Muslim countries protested insults to the Koran this week in protests in Sweden and Denmark, which allow book burnings under legal protections for free speech.
Demonstrators gathered in Baghdad amid tight security, with bridges leading to the Green Zone that house several foreign embassies closed after demonstrators attempted to reach the Danish embassy in the early hours of Saturday.
That attempt, which was repulsed by Iraqi security forces who fired tear gas according to a government source, came 48 hours after the Swedish embassy was overrun and set on fire in protest of a planned burning of the Koran in Stockholm.
Iraq condemned the attack on the Swedish embassy but expelled the Swedish ambassador in protest of planning to burn the Qur’an, the central text of Islam that Muslims believe is a revelation from God.
On Friday in Denmark, a man set fire to a book allegedly the Qur’an in a square opposite the Iraqi embassy in Copenhagen.
The event was broadcast live on the Facebook (NASDAQ:) platform of a group calling itself the “Danish Patriots”. The video shows the book burning in a tinfoil tray next to the Iraqi flag on the ground, with two onlookers standing and talking next to it.
Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen condemned it as a “stupid” act by a few individuals, telling national broadcaster DR: “It is an outrageous act to insult the religion of others.”
“This applies to the burning of Qurans and other religious symbols. It has no purpose other than to stir up and create division,” he said. But he noted that burning religious books is not a crime in Denmark.
Iran’s foreign ministry said it had summoned the Danish ambassador on Friday to protest.
Tehran urged Denmark and Sweden to take action, saying Muslims around the world expected the desecration to stop.
war on the Islamic world
During Thursday’s anti-Islam demonstration in Stockholm, demonstrators kicked and partially destroyed a book they said was the Qur’an, but left the area without setting it on fire.
The incident prompted Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, the region’s leading Sunni and Shiite powers, to summon Swedish diplomats in protest.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Sweden to hand over the perpetrators to the judiciary in Islamic countries.
He later wrote on Twitter: “The Swedish government must know that by supporting the criminal who burned the Holy Qur’an, it is entering the ranks of the battles for the sake of war against the Islamic world.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said that the Danish government is responsible for preventing insults to Islamic symbols, as well as punishing violators. In a statement on state media, he added that Muslims are waiting for practical action.
The Danish Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment.
Iran, which has delayed the appointment of a new ambassador to Sweden, said that, in return, it does not accept a new Swedish envoy regarding the attacks on the Quran.
A Swedish government spokesman said a phone conversation took place on Friday between the foreign ministers of Sweden and Iran, but declined to give details.
In a statement, the Iraqi presidency called on international organizations and Western governments to “stop the practices of incitement and hatred, whatever their pretexts.”
It also warned the Iraqis against being drawn into what it described as a “sedition plot,” which it said aimed to show that Iraq is not safe for foreign missions.
Until Saturday night, supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful figure in opposition to Iran-backed groups in the government, led protests in Baghdad over the burning of the Koran, which analysts say is using the protests as a show of force until Saturday night.
Saturday night’s demonstration was the first major action called for by Iran-backed armed parties and groups that support the government.
The attendees were seen carrying the flags of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a military-political group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, in addition to pictures of the former commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by the United States in 2020.