- ASSOCIATED PRESS
Protesters Try to Storm Baghdad’s Green Zone over the Burning of Quran and Iraqi Flag in Denmark
12:21 JST, July 23, 2023
BAGHDAD (AP) — Tensions flared again in Iraq on Saturday over a series of recent protests in Europe involving the desecration of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, which sparked a debate over the balance between freedom of speech and religious sensitivities.
Hundreds of protesters attempted to storm Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone that houses foreign embassies and the seat of Iraq’s government early on Saturday, following reports that an ultranationalist group burned a copy of the Quran in front of the Iraqi Embassy in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, the previous day.
The protest came two days after people angered by the planned burning of the Islamic holy book in Sweden stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad.
Security forces on Saturday pushed back the protesters, who blocked the Jumhuriya bridge leading to the Green Zone, preventing them from reaching the Danish Embassy.
Elsewhere in Iraq, protesters burned three caravans belonging to a demining project run by the the Danish Refugee Council in the city of Basra in the south, local police said in a statement. The fire was extinguished by civil defense responders, and there were “no human casualties, only material losses,” the statement said.
The council confirmed in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that its premises in Basra “came under armed attack” early Saturday.
“We deplore this attack — aid workers should never be a target of violence,” Lilu Thapa, the Danish Refugee Council’s executive director for the Middle East, said.
Iraq’s prime minister has cut diplomatic ties with Sweden in protest over the desecration of the Quran in that country.
An Iraqi asylum-seeker who burned a copy of the Quran during a demonstration last month in Stockholm had threatened to do the same thing again onThursday but ultimately stopped short of setting fire to the book.
The man — an Iraqi of Christian origin living in Stockholm, now a self-described atheist — did, however, kick and step on it, and did the same with an Iraqi flag and a photo of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr and of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The right to hold public demonstrations is protected by the constitution in Sweden, and blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s. Police generally give permission based on whether they believe a public gathering can be held without major disruptions or safety risks.
On Friday afternoon, thousands protested peacefully in Iraq and other Muslim-majority countries.
In Iran, the powerful Revolutionary Guard’s chief, Gen. Hossein Salami, said that “we do not allow those who insult the Quran to be safe”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Saturday.
Muslims “will decree a severe punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes,” he continued.
In the incident in Copenhagen, according to Danish media reports, members of the ultranationalist group Danske Patrioter burned a copy of the Quran and an Iraqi flag in front of the Iraqi Embassy, livestreaming the action on Facebook.
Copenhagen police spokeswoman Trine Fisker told the AP that “a very small demonstration” with fewer than 10 people took place Friday afternoon across the street from the Iraqi Embassy and that a book was burned.
“We do not know what book it was,” she said. “Apparently they tried to burn the Iraqi flag and after that, somebody stepped on it.”
Fisker said the “political angle is not for the police to comment” on, but the “event was peaceful … from a police perspective.”
The Danish government on Saturday condemned the demonstration. Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen called the action a “stupidity that a small handful of individuals did.”
“It is a shameful act to violate the religion of others,” he told Danish public broadcaster DR. “This applies both to the burning of Qurans and other religious symbols. It has no other purpose than to provoke and create division.”
The incident prompted the protests in Baghdad overnight. Chanting in support of the anti-Western Shiite cleric al-Sadr and carrying images of him and the flag associated with his movement, along with the Iraqi flag, hundreds of protesters attempted to enter the Green Zone and clashed with security forces before dispersing.
Later, the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned in a statement “in strong and repeated terms, the incident of abuse against the holy Quran and the flag of the Republic of Iraq in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Denmark.”
It called the international community “to stand urgently and responsibly towards these atrocities that violate social peace and coexistence around the world,” the statement read.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani criticized the desecration of the Quran in Denmark and said the Danish government should be held responsible for preventing such acts and should pursue and punish those behind them, the ministry’s website said.
The ministry also summoned the Danish ambassador to Tehran, Jesper Vahr, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
The report said that Vahr was told Iran believes that if the Danish government had acted effectively, “we would not have witnessed such a blasphemous act today.”
On Saturday evening, more than a thousand protesters gathered again in central Baghdad but did not attempt to storm the Green Zone for a second time. They burned Swedish and LGBTQ+ flags and chanted against the United States, Israel, Sweden and Denmark, before dispersing peacefully after a couple of hours.
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