Baghdad (Caasimada Online) – The calm diplomatic relations between Iraq and Sweden were suddenly disrupted on Thursday.
The epicenter of this diplomatic storm was a contentious protest held in Stockholm, where Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi refugee living in Sweden, desecrated the Koran, which inflamed Muslim sentiments worldwide.
Sweden’s stance on the issue, grounded in its commitment to free speech, ignited a counter-reaction in Iraq.
A chaotic mob of Iraqis, irate at Sweden’s laissez-faire approach to the incident, responded by storming and setting the Swedish embassy in Baghdad ablaze.
As the violence unfolded, the Iraqi government quickly condemned the embassy attack.
However, in an unexpected turn, Iraq also voiced its disapproval of the Koran protest in Sweden, resulting in a swift series of punitive actions.
The Swedish ambassador was ordered to leave Iraqi territory. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani sternly warned Sweden about its repeated permissions for actions perceived as insulting to Islamic sanctities and the burning of the Iraqi flag.
In addition, the government temporarily suspended the operating license of the Swedish telecom giant, Ericsson, hinting at further escalating tensions.
The aftermath of the protests
By dawn, tranquillity had once again prevailed around the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. However, the magnitude of the damage wrought by the overnight attack was still uncertain.
A security source told to AFP that about 20 protesters had been apprehended during the unrest.
In the evening, Baghdad witnessed another gathering of around 200 protesters in the city center.
They brandished the Koran and the Iraqi flag, along with the banners of the Iran-backed former paramilitary Hashed al-Shaabi.
Their chants, “Yes, yes to the Koran!” echoed in the streets as some participants also displayed pictures of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and burned a Swedish flag.
Protester Ahmed al-Maliki, 46, reflected the sentiments of many when he labeled the Stockholm protest a “sinful attack” against the faith of two billion believers in the Koran.
Reactions to the unfolding crisis weren’t limited to Iraq and Sweden.
In a flurry of international responses, the U.S., France, Turkey, and Lebanon condemned the attack on the Swedish embassy, while the Turkish foreign ministry called on Sweden to take preventative measures against hate crimes targeting Islam and its followers.
The leader of Lebanon’s pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, suggested that the expulsion of the Swedish envoy in Lebanon and the recall of Lebanon’s ambassador to Sweden would be “the minimum required.”
Amidst the flurry of criticism, Sweden stood its ground. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom labeled the attack on their embassy as “completely unacceptable,” reiterating the safety of Swedish employees in Baghdad.
Stockholm police emphasized that their decision to permit the controversial protest was aligned with Swedish laws protecting freedom of assembly and free speech.
Potential for further strains
The fallout from the protest has placed both nations at a crossroads. In a strong response, Baghdad informed Stockholm that any future recurrence of such incidents on Swedish soil would necessitate severing diplomatic ties.
The Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation joined the chorus of voices decrying the protest in Stockholm, denouncing it as a “provocative attack” not justified under the banner of freedom of expression.
This echoed a similar sentiment from the Jordanian foreign ministry, which condemned the protest as a “reckless act that fuels hatred.”
As the situation evolves, the incident serves as a stark reminder of the delicate balance between upholding free speech rights and respecting religious beliefs, which is increasingly being tested in today’s polarized world.