Photo: Reuters

Iraqi PM escapes attempted-assassination

Unknown assailants launched 3 armed drone strikes on the leader’s residence in Baghdad’s heavily- fortified Green Zone yesterday.

By Erin Viner

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi escaped without harm although officials said 6 guards were injured in the attack, which visibly damaged parts of the home as well as an SUV vehicle parked in the garage, and left unexploded ordnance on the rooftop.

“The cowardly terrorist attack that targeted the home of the prime minister last night with the aim of assassinating him, is a serious targeting of the Iraqi state by criminal armed groups,” Kadhimi said in a statement released by his office after he held immediate consultations with top security commanders.

One of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) hit the leader’s resident while the others were downed by security forces, said an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesperson cited by the INA state news agency.

The security situation in the Green Zone – which houses other government buildings and foreign embassies – was stable after the attack, said a spokesperson for Iraq’s Armed Forces Commander in Chief.  Western diplomats based nearby in the Green Zone said they heard explosions and gunfire.

Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the attack as a heinous crime against Iraq, saying in a Tweet that, “We cannot accept that Iraq will be dragged into chaos and a coup against its constitutional system.”

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attempted -assassination, which escalated hostilities in the country just weeks after a general election was disputed by Iran-backed militia groups.

Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose party was the biggest winner in the 10 October election, branded the incident as a terrorist act that aimed to “return Iraq to a state of chaos to be controlled by non-state forces.”

The attack also came just 2 days after clashes in Baghdad between government forces and supporters of Iran-backed political parties that lost dozens of parliamentary seats in the election. Many analysts believe the outcome reflected public anger at the Iran-backed armed groups, who are widely blamed for involvement in the 2019 killing of nearly 600 protesters who took the street in separate, anti-government demonstrations.

Most of Baghdad’s political factions aligned with Tehran also maintain their own armed wings. Since losing much of their parliamentary power, the groups have been leading protests over claimed irregularities in ballot casting and counting, allegations rejected by Iraqi officials.

At least 1 rioter was killed and several officers were injured this past Friday after demonstrators hurled rocks at security forces near the Green Zone, who responded with tear gas and live gunfire.

Leaders of the Iranian-affiliated parties denounced the attack on the Iraqi premier, while calling for government investigation and the bringing of the perpetrators to account. A security official from the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group rejected allegations of responsibility.

The international community were swift to speak out against the attempt on Kadhimi’s life.

“I condemn in the strongest terms those using violence to undermine Iraq’s democratic process. The perpetrators of this terrorist attack on the Iraqi state must be held accountable,” United States President Joe Biden said in a statement, while praising the Iraqi leader’s call for “calm, restraint and dialogue.”

“We are following the reported drone attack targeting the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhimi. We are relieved to learn the Prime Minister was unharmed. This apparent act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, was directed at the heart of the Iraqi state,” US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a statement, adding, “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. Our commitment to our Iraqi partners is unshakeable. The United States stands with the government and people of Iraq.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Iraqis “to exercise utmost restraint and reject all violence and any attempts to destabilize Iraq,” said his official spokesperson, underscoring Gutteres’ call for all sides to resolve their disputes through dialogue.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said the incident was a “cowardly terrorist act,” reported the state-owned Al-Arabiya TV.

Supreme National Security Council of Iran Gen. Ali Shamkhani referred to the strikes as “a new sedition” in a message posted on Twitter.