Iraqi prime minister survives assassination bid with drones

Mustafa Kadhimi is seated during a visit to the White House
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi meets with President Biden on July 26 in the Oval Office.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt with armed drones that targeted his residence early Sunday. Officials said he was unharmed.

The attack marked a major escalation in tensions sparked by the refusal of Iran-backed militias to accept last month’s parliamentary election results.

Two Iraqi officials told the Associated Press that seven of Kadhimi’s security guards were injured in the attack by two armed drones in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give official statements.


“The rockets of treason will not shake one bit of the steadfastness and determination of the heroic security forces,” the prime minister tweeted shortly after the attack. “I am fine and among my people. Thank God.”

In a statement, the government said the drones tried to hit Kadhimi’s home. Residents of Baghdad heard an explosion followed by gunfire from the direction of the Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and government offices.

The statement released by state-run media said the failed assassination attempt utilized “an explosives-laden drone that tried to target his residence in the Green Zone.”

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

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It was not clear who was behind the attack, nor did anyone immediately claim responsibility. The attack comes amid a standoff between security forces and pro-Iran Shiite militias whose supporters have been camped for nearly a month outside the Green Zone after they rejected the results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections, in which they were the biggest losers.

“The assassination attempt is a dramatic escalation, crossing a line in unprecedented fashion that may have violent reverberations,” Ranj Alaaldin, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, tweeted.


Protests turned deadly Friday when the demonstrators marched toward the Green Zone. There was an exchange of fire in which one protester affiliated with the militias was killed. Dozens of security forces were injured. Kadhimi ordered an investigation to determine what sparked the clashes and who violated orders not to open fire.

Some of the leaders of the most powerful militia factions loyal to Iran openly blamed Kadhimi for Friday’s clashes and the protester’s death.

“The blood of martyrs is to hold you accountable,” said Qais 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.”

The funeral was attended by leaders of the mostly Shiite Iran-backed factions who together are known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic.

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The United States, the U.N. Security Council and others have praised the Oct. 10 election, which was mostly violence-free and without major technical glitches.

But following the vote, militia supporters pitched tents near the Green Zone, rejecting the election results and threatening violence unless their demands for a recount were met.

The unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have cast a shadow over the election. The standoff with the militia supporters has also increased tensions among rival Shiite factions that could reflect on the streets and threaten Iraq’s newfound stability.

The election was held months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019 that saw tens of thousands in Baghdad and predominantly Shiite southern provinces rally against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment. They also protested the heavy-handed interference of Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s affairs.

The militias lost some popularity since the 2018 vote, when they made big election gains. Many hold them responsible for suppressing the 2019 protests and for challenging the state’s authority.

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The biggest gains in the October election were made by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, who won the most parliament seats, 73 out of 329. While he maintains good relations with Iran, Sadr publicly opposes external interference in Iraq’s affairs.

The protests appeared to be aimed at pressuring Sadr to ensure that Iran-aligned factions are part of the next Cabinet. As the winner, Sadr’s bloc will seek coalition partners and name the prime minister.