Protesters try to storm Baghdad's Green Zone over burning of Quran in Denmark

Iraqi security forces turn back demonstrators after reports Danske Patrioter group set fire to the holy book in Copenhagen

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Iraqi security forces on Saturday dispersed about 1,000 protesters, after they tried to march to Baghdad's Green Zone, following reports a copy of the Quran had been desecrated in Denmark.

Supporters of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr attempted to storm the area that is home to foreign embassies and Iraqi government offices, early on Saturday.

They were pushed back by security forces, who blocked the Jumhuriya bridge leading to the heavily fortified zone and prevented them from reaching the Danish Embassy.

“The security forces and a number of members of the Popular Mobilisation were able to thwart an armed attempt carried out by the Al Salam Brigade at dawn on Saturday,” Iraq's foreign ministry said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, protesters burned three caravans belonging to a demining project run by the Danish Refugee Council, or DRC, in the city of Basra in the south, local police said.

The fire was extinguished by civil defence responders, and there were “no human casualties, only material losses,” the police said.

The DRC confirmed to the Associated Press that its premises in Basra “came under armed attack” early on Saturday.

“We deplore this attack – aid workers should never be a target of violence,” said Lilu Thapa, the DRC’s executive director for the Middle East.

On Friday members of ultranationalist group Danske Patrioter burnt a copy of the Quran and an Iraqi flag in front of the Iraqi embassy in Copenhagen and live-streamed the action on Facebook, according to Danish media reports.

The Danish government on Saturday condemned the demonstration. Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen called the action a “stupidity that a small handful of individuals did."

This followed the desecration of the Quran by an activist in Stockholm, which led to hundreds of protesters storming and setting fire to the Swedish embassy in the Iraqi capital in the early hours of Thursday.

Iraq on Saturday reassured diplomatic missions in the country of their security, saying the government would not allow a recurrence of the storming of the Swedish embassy.

Protesters had occupied the diplomatic post for several hours, waving flags and banners showing the influential Mr Al Sadr. The embassy's staff had been evacuated a day earlier.

Hours later, Iraq cut diplomatic ties with Sweden in protest over the desecration of the Quran.

An Iraqi asylum seeker who burnt a copy of the holy book during a demonstration last month in Stockholm had threatened to do the same thing again on Thursday but ultimately stopped short of setting fire to the book.

He did, however, kick and step on it, and did the same with an Iraqi flag and a photo of Mr Al Sadr and of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On Friday afternoon, thousands protested peacefully in Iraq and other Muslim-majority countries.

Protesters angry over Quran burning in Sweden storm country's embassy in Baghdad

Protesters angry over Quran burning in Sweden storm country's embassy in Baghdad

However, on Friday night hundreds of protesters chanting in support of Sadr and carrying images of the prominent leader and the flag associated with his movement, along with the Iraqi flag, attempted to enter the Green Zone and clashed with security forces before dispersing.

In a statement on Saturday, the Iraqi presidency called on 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.

Also, the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday 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.”

It called the international community “to stand urgently and responsibly towards these atrocities that violate social peace and coexistence around the world.”

Another protest is scheduled to take place in Baghdad at 6pm.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani criticised the desecration of the Quran in Denmark and said the Danish government should be held responsible for failing to prevent 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.

Commander-in-chief of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Hossein Salami said on Saturday that "those who insult the Holy Quran will not be safe."

"We do not allow those who insult the Quran to have security. If anyone wants to play with our religion and our Quran, we will play with their entire world," he warned.

Updated: July 22, 2023, 5:21 PM