Iraqi security forces dispersed hundreds of demonstrators who had besieged the main gates of the Swedish embassy in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, in response to Stockholm’s approval of another planned burning of Islam’s holy book, the Quran.
Videos posted on social media showed a large number of protesters inside the Swedish embassy, with black smoke and flames billowing from the building.
Security forces armed with electric batons chased the protesters and used water cannons to disperse them and put out the fire, a security source told CNN.
Witnesses told CNN that after setting fire to part of the Swedish embassy, protesters left its perimeter “after delivering their message of protest against the burning of God’s holy book.”
According to several organizations, several journalists covering the protests were detained by security forces and at least one was beaten.
“Journalists must be free to report the news, wherever they are, without fear of harassment or harm,” Reuters Iraq bureau chief Taimur Azhari tweeted on Thursday. Two detained Reuters journalists were released several hours later, the agency said.
Ziad al-Ajili, head of the Iraq-based Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), told CNN that three photojournalists working with international news agencies were arrested and another was beaten by security forces and had his camera destroyed.
CNN has reached out to the Iraqi government for comment.
Protesters climb a fence near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on Thursday.
A planned protest in Sweden took place outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm on Thursday. It was organized by Salwan Momika, an Iraqi national in Sweden who burned a copy of the Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm last month during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, sparking outrage in Iraq and around the world.
According to videos seen by CNN, no Quran was ultimately burned during Thursday’s protest, but footage showed two protesters kicking the Quran and partially destroying it, and Momika stomping on the Quran and polishing her shoes with an image of the Iraqi flag.
A Stockholm police spokesman estimated that two people attended the demonstration with permits and another 150, most of them journalists.
Salwan Momika pictured at his Quran protest in Stockholm on Thursday.
Swedish police have insisted that they only issue permits for holding public meetings and not for activities held during them.
Swedish and Iraqi officials have exchanged heated words over the protests, with Baghdad threatening to cut diplomatic ties with Stockholm over government-sanctioned Quran-burning demonstrations.
“Issuing permits under the guise of freedom of expression is provocative and contrary to international agreements and norms, which emphasize respect for religions and beliefs,” the Iraqi prime minister’s office said.
Earlier, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry condemned the attack on the Swedish embassy. The ministry called the incident part of a pattern of attacks on diplomatic missions.
Protesters are pictured at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on Thursday.
The Iraqi government held an emergency meeting in Baghdad on Thursday to hand over the detainees to the judiciary and said “negligent security officials will be investigated and face appropriate legal action”.
Prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqdada al-Sadr, who was behind the protests at the Swedish embassy, said, “By allowing the burning of the Iraqi flag, Sweden does not trust Iraq with Sweden’s anti-Islam and holy books.
“It is up to the government not only to express condemnation and condemnation because it shows weakness and complacency,” Sadr said.
Meanwhile, Swedish officials strongly condemned the demonstrations in Baghdad, saying the protesters’ actions were “completely unacceptable”.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said on Thursday that Iraq’s charge d’affaires has been invited to Stockholm.
Iraq later withdrew its charge from the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm and asked the Swedish ambassador in Baghdad to leave the country, an Iraqi government spokesman said on Thursday.
All Swedish embassy staff in Baghdad are safe amid protests outside the building, the foreign ministry’s press office told CNN via email.
“We condemn all attacks on diplomats and staff of international organizations. Attacks on embassies and diplomats are a serious violation of the Vienna Convention. Iraqi authorities have the responsibility to protect diplomatic officials and diplomatic staff,” it said.
The European Union echoed Sweden’s condemnation of the attack in Iraq overnight, saying it hoped for a “quick return to normalcy” in relations between the two countries.
Iraq suspended the license of Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson in response to the demonstration in Stockholm.
In a statement to CNN on Thursday, Eriksson said the incidents in Stockholm, including the burning of the Holy Quran, are deeply offensive to the religious beliefs and values held by Muslims around the world.
“This action does not reflect Erickson’s core value of respect.”