Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt with armed drones targeting his home, with officials saying he was unharmed.
The attack was a major escalation amid tensions sparked by the refusal of Iranian-backed militias to accept the results of last month’s parliamentary elections.
“I’m fine and among my people. Thank God,” the prime minister tweeted shortly after the attack. He called for calm and restraint, “for the good of Iraq”.
He later appeared on Iraqi television, sitting behind a desk in a white shirt, looking calm and composed. “Cowardly rocket and drone attacks don’t build homelands and they don’t build a future,” he said.
In a statement, the government said an explosives-laden drone attempted to hit al-Kadhimi’s home early Sunday morning.
Baghdad residents heard the sound of an explosion followed by heavy gunshots from the management of the Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and government offices.
The statement released by the state media states that the security forces are “taking the necessary measures in relation to this failed attempt”.
Two Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that seven of al-Kadhimi’s security guards were injured in the attack with two armed drones that took place in the fortified green area of Baghdad.
The attack comes amid tensions with the pro-Iranian militias
There was no immediate claim for the attack. It comes amid a stalemate between security forces and pro-Iranian Shiite militias whose supporters have been camped outside the Green Zone for nearly a month after rejecting the results of the Iraqi parliamentary elections in which they lost about two-thirds of the population. their seats.
“The assassination attempt is a dramatic escalation, crossing a line in an unprecedented way that can have violent repercussions,” Ranj Alaaldin, a non-resident colleague at the Brookings Institution, wrote in a Twitter post.
The protests turned deadly on Friday as protesters tried to enter the Green Zone.
Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition. There was a firefight in which a militia-affiliated protester was killed. Dozens of law enforcement officers were injured. Al-Khadimi has ordered an investigation to determine what sparked the clashes and who violated the order not to open fire.
Some of the leaders of the most powerful militia factions loyal to Iran openly accused al-Kadhimi of Friday’s clashes and the demonstrator’s death.
“The blood of the martyrs is to hold you accountable,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, said, addressing al-Kadhimi at a funeral held Saturday for the protester. “The protesters only had one request against election fraud. Responding like this (on high heat) means that you are primarily responsible for this fraud ».
The funeral was attended by leaders of mostly Iranian-backed Shiite factions that together are known as People’s Mobilization Forces, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic.
Al-Kadhimi tries to balance alliances with the US and Iran
Al-Kadhimi, 54, was the former head of Iraqi intelligence before becoming prime minister in May last year.
He is considered by militias to be close to the United States and has sought to balance Iraq’s alliances with both the United States and Iran.
Before the election, it hosted several rounds of talks between regional enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad in an effort to ease regional tensions.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Iranian National Security Council, indirectly said in a tweet on Sunday that the United States was behind the attack.
The assault on al-Kadhimi “is a new sedition that must be traced back to groups of foreign experts, who have brought nothing but insecurity, discord and instability to the oppressed Iraqi people through the creation and support of terrorist groups and the occupation of this country for years, “he said.
The United States strongly denounced the attack.
“This apparent act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, has been directed at the heart of the Iraqi state,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“We are in close contact with the Iraqi security forces tasked with defending Iraq’s sovereignty and independence and have offered our assistance as they investigate this attack,” he added.
The United States, the UN Security Council and others praised the October 10 elections, which were mostly free from violence and without major technical problems.
But after the vote, militia supporters pitched tents near the Green Zone, rejecting election results and threatening violence unless their demands for a recount were met.
Unfounded claims of election fraud have cast a shadow over the vote. The clash with militia supporters has also increased tensions between rival Shiite factions that could escalate into violence and threaten Iraq’s regained relative stability.
The elections took place months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019, which saw tens of thousands of people in Baghdad and the predominantly Shia southern provinces rally against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment. They also protested neighboring Iran’s heavy interference in Iraqi affairs through Iranian-backed militias.
The militias have lost popularity since the 2018 vote, when they made big electoral gains. Many hold them responsible for cracking down on the 2019 protests and challenging the authority of the state.