Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi escaped unharmed from an assassination attempt by three armed drones in Baghdad on Sunday, officials said. The assassination attempt came weeks after a general election was disputed by Iran-backed militia groups.
The attempt dramatically raises tension in the country that has already seen threats of violence.
Al-Kadhimi took to social media moments after the attack and called for “calm and restraint from everyone.”
“Thank God, I am fine and among my people,” he posted on Twitter.
“I was and still am a redemption project for Iraq and the people of Iraq. The missiles of treachery will not discourage the believers and will shake a hair of the stability and determination of our heroic security forces to preserve people’s security, achieve justice, and set the law in place,” he added.
Firebrand Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose party was the biggest winner in last month’s election, called the attack a terrorist act against Iraq’s stability but stopped short of blaming Iran. Instead, al-Sadr said the forces responsible aimed to “return Iraq to a state of chaos to be controlled by non-state forces.”
The U.S. State Department condemned the attack and offered assistance with the investigation.
Al-Kadhimi called the attempt a cowardly act, saying that they work against the efforts to build a better future for the country. He called for calm and constructive dialogue “for the sake of Iraq and the future of Iraq.”
Six members of Kadhimi’s personal protection detail, stationed outside his residence in the Green Zone, were wounded, according to security sources who spoke to the Reuters news service.
According to Ministry of Interior Spokesman General Saad Maan, speaking to the state-run Al-Iraqiya news network, security forces were able to intercept and shoot down two of the drones. The third hit al-Kadhimi’s residence. Iraqi security officials have begun an investigation into the attack.
While no one has claimed responsibility, all signs immediately point to Iranian proxy groups. The Iranian-backed groups were the biggest losers in the recent election. They’ve been contesting the election’s results, and have threatened violence if the results aren’t overturned.
A few days ago, Iraqi security forces clashed with the Iranian-backed groups after they camped out in the heavily fortified Green Zone and threatened to attack government facilities.
A Long String of Attacks
This would hardly be the first time that armed Iranian proxies have used drones in attacks. Three recent attacks using drones have been tied to Iranian proxy militias.
In October, five drones launched from Syria targeted the strategic U.S. base at al-Tanf. No casualties were reported but the drones were traced to Iran. Pro-Iranian news outlets reported that the Iranian-led militias attacked the base in response to an Israeli attack in Palmyra, Syria.
The U.S. and coalition troops are based at al-Tanf to train Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on patrols to counter Islamic State (ISIS) militants. The base is located on a road that serves as a vital land link. The road is used for Iranian-backed forces to send missiles and arms from Tehran to southern Lebanon and attack Israel.
In July, Iran used drones to attack the oil tanker Mercer Street in the gulf off of Oman, killing the Romanian captain and a British security officer. In May, a drone traced back to Iran was launched from Syria towards Israel during Israel’s 11-day conflict with Hamas.
Al-Kadhimi was threatened by the most powerful of Iran’s proxy militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), after several rocket attacks on U.S. bases. After Iraqi security forces discovered plans to construct and use several more rockets against U.S. bases, they arrested several officers of the group. KH is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
Rather than stand down, after the raid, KH operational commander Abu Fadak (also known as Abdul-Karim al-Zrejawi) gathered a force of around 150 fighters in nearly 30 pickup trucks, with at least one carrying a ZSU 23mm twin anti-aircraft cannon and many others bearing equipped with machine-gun mounts. They drove to the prime minister’s residence and demanded the suspects be released to their custody. They made it clear that Al-Kadhimi can be replaced and that they don’t answer to either the Iraqi government or the Iraqi Security Forces.
However, don’t expect Iraqi Security Forces to conclude that Iran is behind this latest drone attack. Despite the presence of Iranian components, their militias, Hamas, Hezbollah, as well as the Houthis in Yemen, have built-in deniability as to who exactly launched the attacks, despite having displayed the same drones in parades.
The Iranians are going to push and threaten the prime minister while trying to get the elections overturned and get their own people in office.