burnings of the Koran provoke a diplomatic crisis with Iraq

Several pages of a Koran were burned in late June in Sweden, angering part of public opinion in Iraq. The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was set on fire by demonstrators, and the authorities are threatening to sever diplomatic relations with the Scandinavian country.



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Protesters gathered outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on July 20, 2023. (AMMAR KARIM / AFP)

Hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on Thursday, July 20, early in the morning. The building was then set on fire. An attack staged to protest against a rally planned for later in the day in Stockholm at which a Koran is to be burned.

>> Iraq: the Swedish embassy set on fire by demonstrators

After this attack, the Iraqi charge d’affaires in Stockholm was summoned by the Swedish authorities, who described the gesture as “totally unacceptable”. Baghdad also condemns the attack but threatens to break diplomatic relations “if a new book burning” of the Quran takes place.

Because at the end of June, during Eid, several pages of a Koran, wrapped in ham, were burned by an Iraqi refugee of Christian faith. The police then opened an investigation in stride for incitement to hatred. The Swedish Foreign Ministry had condemned a qualified act “Islamophobic”. According to a local media, the demonstration scheduled for Thursday, July 20 is on the initiative of the same man.

The embarrassment of the Swedish government

These cases plunge the Swedish authorities into deep embarrassment. The government cannot criticize a constitutional right, that of demonstrating and expressing an opinion. Nor can he interfere with the police, who are the only ones who can ban demonstrations, and only for security reasons.

Since January, the security forces have repeatedly prevented these burnings. Before finally being sanctioned in June by the Supreme Court of Justice, which defended the right to freedom of expression in the broad sense, including the right to blasphemy.

In Iraq, public opinion shocked

It is therefore a real geopolitical balancing act that is being played out there. Because in Iraq, the Iraqi government is also walking on a wire and does not have free rein. DFirstly because the assailants of the Swedish embassy on Thursday belong to the current of Moqtada Sadr, a powerful and influential Shiite leader.

The leader has often shown his ability to mobilize his troops. In the summer of 2022, his supporters, for example, invaded parliament and set up a sit-in lasting several weeks. Moqtad Sadr then wanted to press for the appointment of a new government. Baghdad is also under pressure, because Iraqi public opinion is headwind against Sweden, shocked by the burning of a Koran. A feeling of anger shared throughout the Arab-Muslim world.

source site-29