This latest protest, which took place at night, was triggered by reports of an apparent desecration of the Koran in Denmark.
On Saturday, protests over the desecration of the Koran erupted amid diplomatic tensions in Baghdad after police drove away hundreds of Moktada Sadr supporters on their way to the Danish embassy.
This latest protest, which took place at night, was triggered by reports of an apparent desecration of the Koran in Denmark. The far-right Danske Patrioter movement posted a video on Facebook on Friday in which a man appears to have burned a Koran and stomped on an Iraqi flag.
“No, no to hell, yes, yes to the Koran”
Contacted by AFP on Saturday, Copenhagen police confirmed “a very small demonstration outside the Iraqi embassy yesterday” in which “a book was burned” without being able to say “which book it was”. The incident is the latest in a series of rallies that have fueled tensions between Scandinavian and Muslim countries.
Following two events in Stockholm in which the Koran was desecrated by an Iraqi refugee, supporters of Moqtada Sadr burned down the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on Thursday and the Iraqi government announced the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador.
And late Saturday afternoon, several hundred protesters, waving copies of the Koran and Iraqi flags, gathered on a Baghdad avenue for a rally organized by supporters of former pro-Iranian paramilitaries Hachd al-Khaabi. “No, no the hell, yes, yes to the Koran,” they shouted in a relaxed atmosphere, according to an AFP correspondent, waving the flags of certain Hashd groups. “We support the Iraqi government’s decision to expel the Swedish ambassador,” read a poster.
“The Koran is our constitution”
“The Koran is our constitution and it represents us (…) we don’t burn, we don’t kill, we condemn in the name of religion and humanity,” said one of the organizers, who gave only his first name Assaad. After Sweden, all the anger is crystallizing in Denmark, although the foreign ministry has condemned the “burning of the Koran” as a “shameful act” and “a provocation that hurts many people”.
In southern Iraq, the non-governmental organization Danish Refugee Council on Saturday reported an “armed attack” on its premises near Basra and ensured that its employees remained “physically unharmed”. “Structures” on the site were set on fire, he said. And the Danish ambassador was summoned to Tehran by Iranian diplomacy to “denounce the fires in Europe reminiscent of the dark ages and era of ignorance of the Middle Ages,” according to a press release from state agency IRNA.
Baghdad also condemned “the desecration of the Holy Koran and the Iraqi flag” in Denmark on Saturday. “These actions provoke reactions and put all parties in delicate situations,” the Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement. “The Iraqi government guarantees the protection and security offered to the diplomatic teams,” he assured. “We cannot allow what happened to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sweden to be repeated.”
The influential religious leader Moqtada Sadr, who was dismissed in opposition, is blowing on the embers. In response to the Copenhagen incident, several hundred of his supporters gathered in Baghdad on Saturday night, according to an AFP photographer. Security forces had blocked two bridges leading to the Green Zone, a safe area housing government institutions and embassies. However, around a thousand demonstrators tried to force their way through and a handful of demonstrators managed to cross an entrance to the Green Zone.
According to a security source who asked to remain anonymous, security forces forced them back with batons and tear gas. Clashes broke out as protesters were pushed back and dispersed, an Interior Ministry official confirmed to AFP, also on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday evening, Moqtada Sadr described the fire at the Swedish embassy by his supporters as a “spontaneous and popular act” and warned of a possible “escalation” “if such desecrations of the Koran ever occur again”. As a fan of outbursts, the adversary has consistently demonstrated his ability to mobilize his supporters to embarrass his political opponents. In the summer of 2022, protesters supporting him invaded the Baghdad parliament and staged a sit-in.