Weeks of unrest, threats, bloodshed and violent clashes between Iraqi security forces and pro-Iranian militias contesting the outcome of last month’s general election culminated in a massive explosion – an assassination attempt on the life of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Observers now wonder how the daring attack will affect government efforts, security, Iranian influence in Iraq and the planned withdrawal of US forces from the country.
The perpetrators are caught, the perpetrators remain free
“Cowardly rocket and drone attacks do not build a home or a future,” said Kadhimi during a televised address shortly after the November 7th attack. Those who tried to take his life “are known, exposed and brought to justice,” he added.
The Iraqi authorities have reportedly issued arrest warrants against three people for the explosive drone attack on Kadhimi’s residence in Baghdad. The arrests were agreed during the Prime Minister’s meeting following the attack with President Barham Salih, President of the Supreme Judicial Council Faiq Zaidan and Hussein al-Hamidawi, one of the leaders of Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, or Kata’ib Hizbullah.
But will the masterminds of this “terrorist attack”, as the Iraqi Interior Ministry called it, also be exposed and punished?
That is highly doubtful, said Dr. Ronen Zeidel, an Iraq specialist at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, told The Media Line.
“One of the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq is likely behind the attack. You will agree to hand over those involved in carrying out the attack to the authorities as always; This is a well-known practice that started with the Lebanese Hezbollah – but that’s it, ”said Zeidel.
No one has taken responsibility for the attack on Kadhimi’s residence in the Baghdad Green Zone, which includes government ministries and foreign embassies. In Iraq, however, there seems to be little doubt about the identity of the perpetrators and their close ties with Iran.
“Iranians don’t need a civil war near their borders”
Two days after the assassination, Brig. Gen. General Esmail Qaani, the leader of the Iranian Quds Force, a branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, rushed to Baghdad to assure the Iraqis that “Iran will do nothing with drone attacks on the residence of the Prime Minister has to do ”.
While there is little doubt in Iraq that one of the country’s pro-Iranian militias was behind the attack, it is also clear that the Iranians disagree, says Zeidel.
“This attempted assassination failed and so did the element behind it – Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq [also known as the Khazali Network] or Hezbollah Iraq. It has also exposed their disagreements with Iran, which has no interest in worsening security or civil war in Iraq, “Zeidel said.
“Iran might be interested in starting civil war in other, remote places like Yemen or Syria, but Iraq is too close to its own borders,” says Dr. Kevjn Lim, an analyst who works the Middle East and North Africa for London-based information provider IHS Markit.
According to two Iraqi Shiite politicians who met Qaani during his visit to Baghdad, Tehran will not contradict any politician appointed as the next prime minister by the Shiite blocs in parliament. Whether the Iranians will actually keep the alleged promise of Qaani remains to be seen, but the chances of a broad government that should also include the pro-Iranian parties have actually increased, says Zeidel.
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“The average Iraqi will not be affected by the withdrawal of US forces”
The United States has described the attempted assassination of Kadhimi as an attack on “the sovereignty and stability of the Iraqi state” and indicated that it was well informed that Iran was behind it. Even so, President Joe Biden promised to withdraw American troops from Iraq by the end of 2021, and for now it seems that even the attack on the Prime Minister will not undo that plan.
It is still unclear how the withdrawal of American troops will take place in the current political climate in Iraq and how events in the country will develop.
“There are still a lot of ambiguities regarding the move. The Biden government said these troops will move from combat roles to advisory roles, but many of them are not already in combat roles. I wouldn’t expect all 2,500 employees to be completely pulled out. If the Americans withdraw completely, they will have to find another route of supply to support their troops in northeast Syria, ”said Lim.
But even if a so-called withdrawal results in a relocation of the US armed forces from Baghdad to northern Iraq, it will certainly be exploited by various anti-American parties in Iraq. However, some wonder whether the Afghanistan scenario in Iraq is possible.
“The average Iraqi will not notice this withdrawal because there are few encounters between them and the American troops. It is as relevant for him as the climate crisis or the corona crisis, “said Zeidel and added:” I would say that they have hardly been present in recent years. “
“The number of soldiers is very small and all this fuss about the ‘American withdrawal’ was invented by the late ones [Maj. Gen.] Qasem Soleimani, who was formerly the chief of the Quds forces. In late 2019, he needed a trick to divert people’s attention in Iraq from anti-Iranian demonstrations, so he pulled this rabbit out of his hat. So there will be headlines and some fuss, but in a few days it will be forgotten, ”said Zeidel.
Tough negotiations and twisting arms are imminent
In the coming weeks, Iraqi political groups will continue negotiations on the formation of a government. Many, including the leader of the Sadist Movement, Muqtada Sadr, who was a big winner in the recent parliamentary elections, are calling for a majority government that can accommodate as many political forces as possible. Incumbent Kadhimi tops the shortlist of candidates for the prime minister’s seat, despite not standing in last month’s elections (no Iraqi prime minister has been since 2014).
According to Zeidel, “Kadhimi is seen as a sedative pill for Iraqi politics. He will try to contain the Iranians without destroying the chances of a compromise, despite what has just happened to him, while the Iranians try to protect their interests. “Iran knows that” it cannot get everything “, says the expert, and his attempt to make Iraq a transit country for arms shipments to Syria has failed – a matter of great concern to Israel.
“It is extremely important for Iran to be part of a democratic process in Iraq. Also, the Shiite parties must work together while a war between them is a doomsday scenario, ”concludes Lim, who believes Iran’s interests do not necessarily coincide with those of the Iraqi pro-Iranian militias, who are still dreaming of the death of their leader, Abu Mahdi To avenge al-Muhandis, who was killed in 2019 by the US drone attack that killed Soleimani.
Iraq will continue to simmer for now, but will likely not boil over. The formation of a government and a new formula of separation of powers will provide evidence of the resilience or fragility of its system.