Updated Jul 21, 2023, 6:10am EDT
securityMiddle East

Iraq threatens to sever diplomatic ties with Sweden over Quran burning

REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

Sign up for Semafor Principals: What the White House is reading. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

Iraq on Thursday threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Sweden, after a man desecrated a copy of the Quran in Stockholm, sparking protests at the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad.

Iraqi authorities also ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from its territory and the withdrawal of the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Sweden.

This is the second time a protest involving the burning of the Quran has occurred in Sweden over the past month.

We’ve curated insights and reporting on the controversy.

Title icon


  • Iraq’s decision to threaten its diplomatic relations with Sweden is likely a “strategic” move, rather than a genuine foreign policy decision, Lawk Ghafuri, a political analyst and former head of foreign media affairs for the Kurdistan Region Government Council of Ministers, said on Twitter. The decision is likely aimed at appeasing Muqtada Al-Sadr, a Shi’ite cleric and head of the Sadrist Movement, whose supporters stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad. Ultimately, cutting ties with Sweden will not only “inflict harm” on Stockholm but also on Baghdad, Ghafuri said.
  • “Iraq still needs a crash course in crisis management,” opined Rasha Al Aqeedi, Middle East Deputy Editor at New Lines Magazine. Al Aqeedi commented that “one disturbed individual” had “dragged the entire country into a diplomatic crisis with the EU.”
  • The United Nations in Iraq condemned the storming of the embassy, saying that “fighting hate speech with violence doesn’t help anyone.” But while the U.N. labeled the Quran burnings as “hate speech,” Sweden does not consider it hate speech, Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Sune Engel Rasmussen noted. It’s seen as criticism of a religion, which is protected by Sweden’s freedom of expression laws.
  • Washington has not yet commented on the Quran burning — which is legal in the U.S — but the State Department condemned the attack on the Swedish Embassy as an “unlawful act of violence,” saying it was was “unacceptable” that Iraqi Security Forces did not act fast to prevent it.
Title icon

Know More

Photos and videos on social media showed hundreds of protesters storming the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad where black smoke and fire were seen coming from the building.


Iraqi authorities said that granting permission to burn the Quran “under the pretext of freedom of expression is viewed as provocative and contrary to international covenants and norms.”

Iraq on Thursday also suspended the license of Swedish telecom giant Ericsson on Iraqi soil.

According to Telegram posts, the demonstration was planned by supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to protest against the planned Quran burning — the second in recent weeks.

Earlier in the month, on Eid, an Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan, a man set fire to the Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm — sparking outrage in the Muslim world.

Swedish police, however, said Wednesday that they had granted permission for a protest to take place outside the Iraqi Embassy where it was known that another Quran burning would take place.