BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of followers of the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada Sadr briefly stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad on Thursday in protest of the burning of a Quran in Sweden.
An Iraqi security official said the Swedish Embassy was evacuated by security forces after the protesters breached the building, raising pictures of Sadr and flags of his militia, the Mahdi Army. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
Some of the protesters also burned rainbow flags, a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride.
Iraqi officials didn’t make any public statement on the storming of the embassy.
On Wednesday, a man who identified himself in Swedish media as a refugee from Iraq burned a Quran outside a mosque in central Stockholm.
The Iraqi security official said the man was an Iraqi Christian who had previously fought in a Christian unit of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a collection of mostly Shiite militias that were incorporated into the country’s armed forces in 2016.
Police authorized the protest, citing freedom of speech, after a previous decision to ban a similar protest was overturned by a Swedish court.
The act, coming during the Eid al-Adha holiday, drew widespread condemnation in the Muslim world. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday suggested that the incident would pose another obstacle to Sweden’s bid for NATO membership.
Sadr posted a message Thursday to his Twitter followers, calling on them to protest at the Swedish Embassy. He asked them to demand the expulsion of Sweden’s ambassador to Iraq and for the man who burned the Quran to be prosecuted in absentia and have his nationality withdrawn.
The cleric has called for another protest to be held in front of the embassy on Friday.
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it had summoned the Swedish ambassador and called on Sweden’s government “to take the necessary measures to stop the repeated insults to the Holy Quran.” The ministry also called on Sweden to extradite the man who had burned the Quran for prosecution in Iraq.
“Legal justifications and freedom of expression do not justify allowing offense to religious sanctities,” the statement said.