The protesters in Baghdad and Basra have come up with a unique form of expressing their anger. Instead of setting fire to the Swedish flag or storming the Swedish embassy, the demonstrators decided to trample on the Rainbow Pride flag and photos of the man who torched the Koran earlier in the week. This unconventional approach was suggested by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who organized the protests and requested that the embassy not be breached.
Several hundred police officers were stationed at the embassy and its surroundings to protect it from the crowd. The demonstrators, carrying Muslim holy books, chanted anti-LGBTQ slogans, including “No to homosexuality, yes to the Koran.”
In a surprising move, al-Sadr also instructed the protesters not to storm the embassy again or carry banners endorsing political parties, militias, or specific figures. He explicitly stated that it was not allowed to publicly burn the flag of the Kingdom of Sweden. Instead, he suggested burning the flag of the LGBT community as an alternative.
The events leading up to these protests began when a group of demonstrators broke into the Swedish embassy compound on Thursday. They desecrated the Swedish flag and demanded the expulsion of the ambassador. However, after al-Sadr intervened, the protesters dispersed within 15 minutes.
In response to the incident, Swedish ambassador Jessica Svardstrom was summoned to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, where she received a strong protest over Sweden’s decision to allow an Iraqi immigrant to publicly burn the Koran. Salwan Momika, the individual responsible, not only stomped on the Muslim holy book but also placed a strip of bacon on it, tore out several pages, and set them ablaze in Stockholm’s Medborjarplatsen. This act coincided with the feast of Eid Al-Adha, a significant event for Muslims worldwide.
Momika, who has since stated his intention to burn the Koran again, alongside the Iraqi flag outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm, is now facing extradition to Iraq to face charges for his actions. It is worth noting that he had originally obtained a police permit for his public performance, but the Swedish government has distanced itself from him since the incident.
Russia has condemned Momika’s stunt as an act of vandalism that promotes religious hatred. The State Duma emphasized that the desecration of sacred items has nothing to do with freedom of speech or religion, nor does it align with the principles of democracy.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson also expressed his disapproval of Momika’s actions, emphasizing the seriousness of the security implications and the need to avoid insulting others. The incident has sparked further concerns, with Türkiye citing this and previous Koran burnings as reasons to question Sweden’s application for NATO membership.
Despite the differing opinions and reactions to this incident, it is clear that tensions remain high. The unique form of protest witnessed in Baghdad and Basra reflects the anger and frustration felt by certain groups, while also showcasing the influence of religious leaders in shaping the nature of these demonstrations. The fallout from this incident will undoubtedly continue to be a topic of discussion for some time to come.