Iraq’s prime minister survives ‘assassination attempt’

Iraq’s military says Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt after a drone laden with explosives targeted his residence in the capital, Baghdad.

Kadhimi escaped unhurt, but security sources told Reuters news agency that at least six members of the prime minister’s personal protection force were wounded in Sunday’s attack.

Kadhimi appealed for calm and restraint in a post on Twitter.

“I’m doing fine, praise be to God, and I call for calm and restraint on the part of everyone for the good of Iraq,” he said.

He later appeared on Iraqi television, seated behind a desk in a white shirt, looking calm and composed. “Cowardly rocket and drone attacks don’t build homelands and don’t build a future,” he said.

The early morning attack came after deadly protests in the Iraqi capital over the result of a general election on October 10.

The groups leading protests are heavily-armed Iran-backed militias that lost much of their parliamentary power in the election. They have alleged voting and vote-counting irregularities.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite armed groups burn portraits of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Iraq security officials during a protest against the election results near the one of the fortified Green Zone entrances in Baghdad, Iraq, November 6, 2021 [Thaier Al-Sudani/ Reuters]

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack on Kadhimi’s residence in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

A statement from the Iraqi military said the failed assassination attempt was with “an explosives-laden drone” and that the prime minister was in “good health”.

“The security forces are taking the necessary measures in connection with this failed attempt,” it said.

Violent protests

Two government officials said Kadhimi’s residence had been hit by at least one explosion and confirmed to Reuters that the prime minister was safe.

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Baghdad, said residents of the city heard explosions and gunfire from the Green Zone and that security has been tightened in and around the central district.

He also said a spokesman for the pro-Iranian militias, known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, has also stated that he was “very sceptical of the assassination attempt, saying that this is just made up by the government in a bid to put blame on the protesters”.

The attack comes after protests by supporters of parties who dispute the results of the vote turned violent on Friday with demonstrators pelted police with stones near the Green Zone.

The police responded with tear gas and live gunfire, killing at least one demonstrator.

Some of the leaders of the most powerful militia factions openly blamed Kadhimi for Friday’s clashes and the protestor’s death.

“The blood of martyrs is to hold you accountable,” said Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, addressing Kadhimi at a funeral held for the protester.

“The protesters only had one demand against fraud in elections. Responding like this (with live fire) means you are the first responsible for this fraud,” he said.

Iraqis carry the coffins of two supporters of the Hashed al-Shaabi, who the paramilitary network says died a day earlier amid clashes with security forces while protesting in the capital to express rejection of last month’s election results, during their funeral in the central holy shrine city of Najaf on November 6, 2021 [Ali Najafi/ AFP]

Preliminary results of that poll showed that a bloc lead by influential Muslim Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr won 73 seats, maintaining its position as the largest group in Iraq’s 329-member parliament. While he maintains good relations with Iran, Sadr publicly opposes external interference in Iraq’s affairs.

Meanwhile, the political arm of Hashd al-Shaabi, which is known as the Conquest Alliance, won about 15 seats, down from 48 in the last parliament.

‘Stupid and shortsighted’

Independent analysts say the election results were a reflection of anger towards the Iran-backed armed groups, known as the Hash al-Shaabi, which are widely accused of involvement in the killing of nearly 600 protesters who took the street in separate, anti-government demonstrations in 2019.

Randa Slim, director of the Conflict Resolution and Track Two Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute, said Sunday’s attack was not “just an attack on Kadhimi, it is also an attack against the political class”.

“It really amounts to a coup attempt,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that while there has been no claim of responsibility, “there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing to the Iran-backed Iraqi militias”.

Noting that the militias have blamed Kadhimi for the protestor’s death on Friday, she said: “The relationship between Kadhimi and the Iran-backed militias have been tense for a long time. Recently, some members of the militias have been indicted for killing some of the protesters two years ago. And Kadhimi’s late adviser, Hisham al-Hashemi, was assassinated by suspected members of these militias. So they and Kadhimi have been engaged in this tug of war and they stand to benefit most from forcing Kadhimi out of the picture.

“But in my opinion, it’s a very stupid and shortsighted move, because if anything it’s going to make Kadhimi a victim and will elevate his political chances of going back to the prime minister’s office.”

The United States strongly denounced Sunday’s attack.

“This apparent act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, was directed at the heart of the Iraqi state,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the US Department of State.

“We are in close touch with the Iraqi security forces charged with upholding Iraq’s sovereignty and independence and have offered our assistance as they investigate this attack,” he added.



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