Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an attack by armed drones that targeted his residence early Sunday. The attack was a major escalation amid tensions sparked by the refusal of Iran-backed militias to accept the results of last month’s general election.
Two Iraqi officials told the Associated Press that seven of al-Kadhimi’s security forces were injured in the attack by two armed drones in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to make official statements.
“I am fine and among my people. Thank God, ”the Prime Minister tweeted shortly after the attack. He called for calm and restraint, “for the sake of Iraq”.
He later appeared on Iraqi television, sat behind a desk in a white shirt, looking calm and collected. “Cowardly rocket and drone attacks do not build a home or a future,” he said.
In a statement, the government said a drone laden with explosives tried to hit al-Kadhimi’s home. Baghdad residents heard the sound of an explosion from the direction of the Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and government offices, followed by heavy gunfire.
The statement released by state media said that the security forces “are taking the necessary measures in connection with this failed attempt”.
There was no immediate claim to the attack. There is a stalemate between security forces and pro-Iranian Shiite militias, whose supporters camped outside the Green Zone for almost a month after rejecting the Iraqi parliamentary election results, in which they lost around two-thirds of their seats.
“The assassination attempt is a dramatic escalation that unprecedentedly crosses a line that can have violent repercussions,” wrote Ranj Alaaldin, a non-resident Brookings Institution fellow, in a post on Twitter.
The protests became fatal on Friday as protesters attempted to break into the Green Zone. Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition. An exchange of fire broke out in the course of which a demonstrator linked to the militia was killed. Dozens of security guards were injured. Al-Khadimi ordered an investigation to find out what caused the clashes and who broke the order not to open fire.
Some of the leaders of the most powerful deliberate militias openly blamed al-Kadhimi for the clashes on Friday and the protester’s death.
“The blood of the martyrs is to hold you accountable,” said Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, in front of al-Kadhimi at a funeral for the protester on Saturday. “The demonstrators only had one demand against election fraud. If you react like this (with keen fire), you will be the first to blame for this fraud. “
The funeral was attended by leaders of the mostly Shiite Iran-backed factions known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic.
Abu Alaa al-Walae, commander of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, told him to forget another term in a tweet apparently addressed to al-Kadhimi and not naming him.
Al-Kadhimi, 54, was Iraq’s former intelligence chief before becoming prime minister in May last year. He is seen by the militias as close to the US and has tried to strike a balance between Iraq’s alliances with the US and Iran. Before the elections, he held several rounds of talks between the regional enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad in order to reduce regional tensions.
The US strongly condemned the attack.
“This obvious act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, was directed against the heart of the Iraqi state,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price.
“We are in close contact with the Iraqi security forces charged with maintaining the sovereignty and independence of Iraq and have offered our assistance in investigating this attack,” he added.
The United States, the UN Security Council and others praised the October 10 elections, which were largely non-violent and without major technical disruptions.
But after the vote, militia supporters pitched tents near the Green Zone, rejected the election result and threatened violence if their demands for a recount were not met.
The unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud overshadowed the vote. The confrontation with militia supporters has also increased tensions between rival Shiite groups, which could escalate into violence and threaten Iraq’s newfound relative stability.
The elections took place months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019 in which tens of thousands in Baghdad and mostly Shiite southern provinces protested against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment. They also protested neighboring Iran’s gross interference in Iraq’s affairs by Iran-backed militias.
The militias have lost some of their popularity since the 2018 vote when they saw big election wins. Many blame them for suppressing the 2019 protests and questioning the authority of the state.
The influential Shiite clergyman Muqtada al-Sadr, who won the most seats with 73 of 329 seats in parliament, achieved the greatest gains. Despite having good relations with Iran, al-Sadr publicly rejects outside interference in Iraq’s affairs.