Iraq calls for Islamic summit after Quran desecration in Sweden

Saudi Arabia backs Baghdad's request for meeting of nations as people take to the streets in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran

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Iraq on Friday called for an Islamic summit to discuss the desecration of the Quran in Sweden, as Sweden temporarily moved its embassy in Iraq to Stockholm.

Ahmed Al Sahaf, a spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, told The National early on Friday that Minister Fuad Hussein had called for an emergency session of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.

“Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein is intensifying his efforts with our Arab and Islamic counterparts to hold the Islamic Summit Conference and have an emergency session at a ministerial level to discuss the repercussions of Islamophobia and the burning of the Quran,” Mr Al Sahaf said.

Mr Hussein made several calls to his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Jordan to discuss holding the meeting, the spokesman said.

The minister called for support for his country’s position on insults to the Quran, he added.

Saudi Arabia agreed to hold the emergency meeting and “take the necessary measures collectively”.

The call comes after an activist in Stockholm on Thursday desecrated the Quran for the second time in weeks, defying condemnation from Iraq where Sweden's ambassador was expelled in protest.

Iraq asked the Swedish ambassador to leave its territory and recalled its charge d’affaires from Stockholm as the stunt took place outside Baghdad's diplomatic mission in Sweden.

Salwan Momika kicked the Quran around on a patch of grass as police looked on, after they had granted him a permit to hold a protest outside the Stockholm embassy. The holy book was not set on fire.

Reports that Swedish authorities would permit the protest on grounds of free speech led to hundreds of Iraqis storming and torching Sweden's Baghdad embassy in a chaotic pre-dawn attack on Thursday.

People took to the streets in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon on Friday in protest on Friday.

In Baghdad's Sadr City, demonstrators burnt the Swedish flag and chanted: “Yes, yes to the Quran, no, no to Israel.”

In Lebanon, thousands gathered at a protest called by the Iran-backed militia and political party Hezbollah, with demonstrators brandishing copies of the holy book and chanting: “With our blood, we protect the Quran.” Some also burnt Swedish flags.

Iran's capital Tehran and other cities also saw demonstrations that were aired on state television.

The UAE summoned Sweden's ambassador and handed her a note of protest, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.

Liselott Andersson was informed of the UAE's strong condemnation of her country's government "allowing repeated attacks on copies of the Quran", the statement read.

Qatar summoned Sweden's ambassador to hand him a protest note over the desecration of the Quran in Stockholm, the foreign ministry said.

The Qatari foreign ministry said it would demand Swedish authorities take “all the necessary measures to stop these shameful acts”.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday summoned the Swedish charge d'affaires in Riyadh and handed them a note of protest, the foreign ministry said.

On Friday the kingdom said it had complained of the “repeated and irresponsible actions” of Swedish authorities in allowing the Quran to be desecrated.

Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi said he was “shocked” at the desecration.

“We believe deeply in tolerance. We respect freedom of expression. But to stand back and permit insulting actions that incite hatred is reckless and dangerous for peace, harmony and social cohesion,” he wrote on Twitter.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said on Friday that Sweden's ambassador had been summoned by Tehran, which denounced the permit granted for Mr Momika's protest and warned Stockholm of the consequences of such actions.

The leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, on Thursday called for Arab and Islamic nations to also expel Swedish ambassadors from their countries and withdraw their ambassadors from Sweden.

Swedish telecoms company Ericsson said on Friday it was investigating reports that Baghdad has suspended employees' work permits in Iraq. It said it was examining the potential implications for customers and staff in the country.

“The incidents in Sweden, involving the … Quran is deeply offensive to the religious beliefs and values cherished by Muslims around the world,” an Ericsson representative said in an email.

“This act does not reflect Ericsson's core value of respect.”

Ericsson, which has about 30 full-time employees in Iraq, said the safety of its staff, partners and customers was its top priority.

“We respect all cultures and religions, and we place great importance on respecting our customers and our employees – and the communities in which we operate,” the representative said.

“It is deeply problematic when freedom of expression turns to alienation between different cultures or religions.”

Late on Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres met with the Ambassadorial Group of the OIC.

“In the meeting, the Secretary General expressed the determination of the United Nations system to fully implement the Human Rights Council resolution on countering religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” the UN said.

Mr Guterres expressed “solidarity with the Muslim community, condemning acts of intolerance, violence and Islamophobia which exacerbate tensions and contribute to discrimination and radicalisation”, it said.

Updated: July 21, 2023, 6:17 PM