BAGHDAD - Protesters set fire to Sweden's embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad early Thursday, an AFP journalist said, ahead of a planned burning of a Quran in Sweden.
Swedish authorities approved an assembly to be held later Thursday outside the Iraqi Embassy in Stockholm, where organizers plan to burn a copy of the Quran as well as an Iraqi flag.
Iraqis have been angered by events in Sweden, and Thursday's protest in Baghdad was organized by supporters of the turbulent religious leader Moqtada Sadr.
Iraqi riot police fired water cannon to disperse demonstrators away from the embassy while security forces armed with electric batons chased protesters, an AFP photographer on the scene said.
"We are mobilized today to denounce the burning of the Koran, which is all about love and faith," protester Hassan Ahmed told AFP. "We demand that the Swedish government and the Iraqi government stop this type of initiative."
Some protesters had raised copies of the Quran into the air, while others held portraits of Mohamed al-Sadr, an important religious cleric and the father of Moqtada Sadr.
"We didn't wait until morning, we broke in at dawn and set fire to the Swedish Embassy," a young demonstrator in Baghdad told AFP on Thursday, before chanting Moqtada's name.
Sweden's foreign ministry told AFP its embassy staff in Baghdad were "safe" following the incident.
"The Iraqi authorities are responsible for the protection of diplomatic missions and their staff," the ministry said, adding that attacks on embassies and diplomats "constitute a serious violation of the Vienna Convention."
Several trucks to extinguish the fire had arrived at the embassy, where skirmishes between Iraqi security forces and demonstrators had broken out, an AFP photographer said.
It was not immediately clear whether the embassy was empty at the time of the attack or if staff had been evacuated.
Iraq's foreign ministry condemned the embassy torching and called on security forces to identify those responsible.
"The Iraqi government has instructed the relevant security services to conduct an urgent investigation and take all necessary measures to uncover the circumstances of the incident and identify the perpetrators," the ministry said in a statement.
Swedish media reported that Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden, had organized the event in Stockholm on Thursday.
Salwan burned a few pages of a copy of the Quran in front of Stockholm's largest mosque on June 28 during Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.
That incident prompted supporters of Moqtada, an influential religious leader and political dissident in Iraq, to storm the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad the following day.
Moqtada has repeatedly mobilized thousands of demonstrators in the streets.
In the summer of 2022, his supporters invaded Baghdad's parliament building and staged a sit-in that lasted several weeks.
At the time, Moqtada was involved in a political spat over the appointment of a prime minister.