BAGHDAD (AP) — Protesters angered by the burning of a copy of the Quran stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad early Thursday, breaking into the compound and lighting a small fire.
Online videos showed demonstrators at the diplomatic post waving flags and signs showing the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr. It wasn’t clear if there were any staff inside the complex at the time.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The videos showed dozens of men climbing over the fence at the complex, with the sound of them trying to break down a front door. Another showed what appeared to be a small fire being set. Other footage showed men, some shirtless in the summer heat, inside what appeared to be a room at the embassy, an alarm audible in the background.
Others later performed predawn prayers outside of the embassy.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the attack.
“The Iraqi government has instructed the competent security authorities to conduct an urgent investigation and take the necessary security measures in order to uncover the circumstances of the incident and identify the perpetrators of this act and hold them accountable according to the law,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Iraqi police and state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack.
The demonstrations began after a man had planned, under police protection, to burn a copy of the Quran and the Torah, the Jewish holy book, outside of the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm. However, the man reportedly had abandoned his plan amid the widespread outrage.
The right to hold public demonstrations is strong in Sweden and protected by the constitution. Blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s.
For Muslims, the burning of the Quran represents a blasphemous desecration of their religion’s holy text. Quran burnings in the past have sparked protests across the Muslim world, some turning violent. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have suspended all the activities of Swedish organizations in the country in response to the recent Quran burning.
An Iraqi Christian immigrant last month burned a Quran outside a Stockholm mosque during the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, triggering widespread condemnation in the Islamic world. A similar protest by a far-right activist was held outside Turkey’s Embassy earlier this year, complicating Sweden’s efforts to convince Turkey to let it join NATO.
In June, protesters stormed the embassy in Baghdad during daylight hours over that Quran burning. Another day of protests saw thousands of demonstrators on the streets in the country. Protesters then, as well as early Thursday, called on Iraqi officials to expel Sweden’s ambassador to Iraq.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.