Hundreds of people in Baghdad have attempted to storm the city’s Green Zone, a heavily fortified area with a number of foreign embassies and the seat of Iraq’s government.
Nearly 1,000 protesters were dispersed by security forces early on Saturday, in reaction to reports of a Quran burning that took place a day earlier by a far-right group in front of the Iraqi embassy in Denmark.
“We have been seeing hundreds of angry protesters. They gathered here, coming from the capital, Baghdad, and other provinces as well, chanting against the desecration of the Holy Quran,” said Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Baghdad.
“They are telling us that they’re here today raising copies of the Holy Quran and the Iraq flag to express their rejection of the[ir] desecration three times in less than a month – twice in Sweden and once in Copenhagen.”
Demonstrators chanted in support of influential Iraqi Shia religious and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, carrying images of the leader and flags associated with his movement, alongside the Iraqi flag.
“Yes, yes to the Quran!” shouted the protesters, many of them young men.
Security forces blocked the Jumhuriya bridge leading to the Green Zone, which prevented the protesters from reaching the Danish embassy.
“This place is not far from the fence of the Green Zone. Remember, last night they tried to storm the Green Zone to reach the Danish embassy … these protesters have also been calling on the international community to draft laws to prevent the aggression, the desecration of holy books,” Abdelwahed said.
According to Danish media reports, the far-right, ultra-nationalist group Danske Patrioter burned a copy of the Quran and an Iraqi flag in front of the Iraqi embassy in Copenhagen and livestreamed the event on Facebook.
Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen condemned it as an act of “stupidity” by a few individuals, telling national broadcaster DR: “It is a disgraceful act to insult the religion of others”.
“This applies to the burning of Korans [Qurans] and other religious symbols. It has no other purpose than to provoke and create division,” he said. He noted however that burning religious books was not a crime in Denmark.
In response to the incident in Copenhagen, the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned “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”, in a statement on Saturday.
The Iraqi presidency meanwhile, called in a statement for international organisations and Western governments “to stop incitement and hate practices, whatever their pretexts”.
It also warned Iraqis against being drawn into what it described as a “plot of sedition” which it said aimed to show Iraq was unsafe for foreign missions.
In a separate incident, demonstrators set fire to the headquarters of the humanitarian organisation Danish Refugee Council in the Basra governorate of Iraq, according to reports by local media and Sky News.
The incidents came two days after Iraqis took to storming and burning the Swedish embassy in Baghdad after a second event was held to desecrate the Quran in Sweden. The embassy was forced to temporarily relocate to Stockholm following the violence.
Iraq’s prime minister cut diplomatic ties with Sweden in protest over the desecration, which also sparked action and condemnation from Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East.
The Swedish incident was carried out by Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Christian Iraqi refugee in Sweden, who also burned pages of a Quran on June 28, the earlier incident also prompted mass protests in Iraq and condemnation from Muslim-majority countries.
Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Danish ambassador on Friday to protest against “the desecration of the Quran in Copenhagen,” the ministry tweeted on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, Iran urged Denmark and Sweden to take measures to end repeated attacks on the Quran in the Nordic countries, saying Muslims around the world expected the desecration to be stopped.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that people who burned the Quran deserved the “most severe punishment” and demanded Sweden hand over perpetrators to “the judicial systems of Islamic countries”.
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