BAGHDAD (AP) — The failed assassination attempt against Iraq’s prime minister at his residence on Sunday has ratcheted up tensions following last month’s parliamentary elections where the Iran-backed militias were the biggest losers.

Helicopters circled in the Baghdad skies throughout the day, while troops and patrols were reinforced on the streets and near the capital’s fortified Green Zone, where the overnight attack occurred.

In a demonstration camp located outside of the Green Zone, supporters of Iran-backed militias defended their position and demanded a recount. The leaders of Iran’s factions met for the second time at a tent to honor a deceased protester in security clashes. The violence is being blamed by many faction leaders.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi received a slight cut after being attacked by armed drones at his home. The calm, composed man was seated at a computer with a white shirt on his back and a bandage wrapped around his wrist.

According to two Iraqi officials, seven of his security personnel were injured in the attack. Because they weren’t authorized to make official statements, the officials spoke under oath.

Al-Khadimi urged calm dialogue. “Cowardly rocket and drone attacks don’t build homelands and don’t build a future,” al-Kadhimi said in his televised speech.

He met Barham Salih, the President of Iraqia, later Sunday and headed Security and Cabinet Meetings.

A security video showed the damage to his residence: a van parked outside the residence badly mangled, a shallow crater near the stairs, cracks in the ceiling and walls of a balcony and broken parts of the building’s roof. The scene was filmed by two unexploded rockets.

This is the aftermath of an attack on the residence of Iraq’s Prime Minster Mustafa al-Kadhimi, in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, Baghdad. It was Sunday, November 7, 2021.
Media Office for the Iraqi Prime Minster via Associated Press

While there wasn’t any claim to the responsibility of this attack, suspicion quickly fell upon Iran-backed militias. The Green Zone also hosts foreign embassies, and they were previously blamed.

Although militia leaders were critical of the attack, most tried to minimize it.

The dramatic increase in tension following Oct. 10’s vote was compounded by surprising results where Iran-backed militias lost around two-thirds.

The results showed a growing discontent towards the militias, who were praised for their heroic actions against Islamic State militants years ago, despite a low turnout.

However, the popularity of militias dropped since 2018, when they achieved huge election wins. Many blame them for suppressing 2019 youth-led protests against the government and weakening the state’s authority.

The attack “is to cut off the road that could lead to a second al-Kadhimi term by those who lost in the recent elections,” said Bassam al-Qizwini, a Baghdad political analyst. “They started escalating first in the street, then clashed with Iraqi Security Forces, and now this.”

Protests organized by pro-Iran Shiite militias became deadly Friday when demonstrators attempted to enter Green Zone, where they were camped, and demanded a recount.

Tactile gas and live ammunition were used by the security forces. One protester associated with militias was shot and killed in an exchange of gunfire. Dozens were hurt by security forces. Al-Khadimi directed an investigation.

“The blood of martyrs is to hold you accountable,” said Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, addressing al-Kadhimi in recorded comments to supporters. He accused him in election fraud.

Al-Khazali suggested that the militias had been framed in the assassination attempt. He called for an investigation.

Other PMF leaders who condemned the attack blamed it on “third parties” seeking to incite strife.

In the strongest criticism of the prime minister, Abu Ali al-Askari, a senior leader with one of the hardline pro-Iran militias, Kataib Hezbollah, questioned whether the assassination attempt was really al-Kadhimi’s effort to “play the role of the victim.”

“According to our confirmed information no one in Iraq has the desire to lose a drone on the residence” of al-Kadhimi, al-Askari wrote in a Twitter post. “If anyone wants to harm this Facebook creature there are many ways that are less costly and more effective to realize that.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the assassination attempt on al-Khadimi and indirectly blamed the U.S.

The escalation also reveals a level of nervousness among Iran and its allies as they realize that political results don’t always translate into control, said Joseph Bahout, a director of research at the American University of Beirut.

“This is an act depicting fear of loss of control. Al-Khadimi is being now perceived as a Trojan horse for more erosion of Iran’s grip on the country,” Bahout said.

Al-Kadhimi, 54, was Iraq’s former intelligence chief before becoming prime minister in May last year. He is considered by the militias to be close to the U.S., and has tried to balance between Iraq’s alliances with both the U.S. and Iran.

He hosted several rounds in Baghdad of talks with regional foes Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries prior to the elections in an attempt to alleviate regional tensions.

Marsin Alshamary, an Iraqi-American research fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, said the attack resurfaced the long-term challenge of how to curb the powers of the militias without triggering a civil war.

If al-Kadhami is to continue as prime minister, then the stakes for him are higher.

“He doesn’t have a political party and so he is susceptible to direct attack with no party to negotiate or protect him,” she added.

Iraq’s election commission has yet to announce the final results. The next step is for the parliament to convene and elect a president.

United States and U.N. Security Council praised the elections, which were mostly peaceful and had no major technical problems.

The unsubstantiated fraud allegations have cast doubt on the election. The standoff with the militia supporters has increased tensions among rival Shiite factions that could spill into violence and threaten Iraq’s newfound relative stability.

Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who won the largest number of parliament seats in the Oct. 10 elections, denounced the “terrorist attack,” which he said seeks to return Iraq to the lawlessness and chaos of the past. While al-Sadr maintains good relations with Iran, he publicly opposes external interference in Iraq’s affairs.

The United States and Saudi Arabia called the attack an apparent act of “terrorism.” Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Facebook called on all sides in Iraq to “join forces to preserve the country’s stability.”

Al-Kadhimi received calls for support from a number of world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron; Jordan’s King Abdullah II, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.


Zeina Karam, Sarah El Deeb, Jon Gambrell, Aya Batrawy and Aya Bakrawy, United Arab Emirates and Samy Magdy, all Associated Press contributors.


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