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Intel Brief: Quran burning protests in Baghdad


Date: 03/08/2023

Where: Baghdad, Iraq

Who’s involved: Iraq, Denmark, Sweden, Shia protestors, right-wing protestors.

What happened?

  • Iraq is currently experiencing unrest following an incident in which an individual burned a copy of the Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm. This provocative act ignited a firestorm of emotions among Shia Iraqis, leading to hundreds of them converging to the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad on 20/07/2023. The compound witnessed a tense standoff as supporters of the prominent Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, occupied its grounds for a span of 15 minutes. Iraq’s foreign minister took action by summoning Sweden’s ambassador to address this delicate matter.

  • The international community has also been on alert about these events in recent months. Responding to a plea from Pakistan, the United Nations Human Rights Council convened an urgent meeting to address the burning of the Quran on 04/07/2023.

  • The situation escalated further when Iraq expelled the Swedish ambassador on 20/07/2023 in the wake of widespread outrage in the country. In response to escalating security concerns, the Swedish embassy in Iraq took a precautionary step by temporarily relocating its operations to Stockholm on 21/07/2023.

  • The streets of Baghdad witnessed further dissent on 22/07/2023 as hundreds attempted to breach the city’s Green Zone. This surge of protesters vehemently rejected the burning of the Quran. The security forces, wanting to maintain order, intervened by blocking access to the Danish embassy.

  • On 24/07/2023, the turmoil intensified as two protesters again set fire to a copy of the Quran, this time outside the Iraqi embassy in Copenhagen. The incident prompted Iraq’s foreign minister to issue a strong plea directed at European Union member states urging them to swiftly reconsider the boundaries of “freedom of expression” and the “right to demonstrate.” Iraq implored these nations to reflect on the delicate balance between free speech and respect for religious sensitivities.

  • Sweden and Denmark are still in the process of investigating if their laws on freedom of speech can be changed on the basis of public safety and the international safety of citizens and Swedish and Danish interests.


  • It is highly likely that the Iraqi demonstrations will intensify in response to the recent Quran burnings. The repercussions of this event are also expected to resonate in Sweden and Denmark, leading to more similar acts. Consequently, heightened turmoil and increased instability are anticipated in both these countries, with Iraq facing particular vulnerabilities due to its unstable political and economic conditions. The impact of these recent developments has been keenly felt by the Iraqi population. Another burning of religious texts could potentially lead to an escalation, making a terrorist act more likely and resulting in significant harm and casualties. The terrorist threat is particularly high in countries such as Sweden and Denmark.


The situation in Iraq and in Europe is most likely going to escalate, especially with this type of incident happening repeatedly. If Iraqi and Swedish authorities’ actions will not lead to a resolution of the tensions, there is a chance that radicalized militants might plan attacks against Danish and Swedish targets. However, the United Nations organizing an urgent meeting sends a significant message to the international community.

20230308 Intel brief_ Quran burnings protests (1)
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