Iraqi PM unharmed after attempted assassination

Drone attack on Kadhimi amid escalating tensions with supporters of Iran-backed militias

Iraq's outgoing prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has survived an assassination attempt, the Iraqi military said, after an exploding drone targeted the premier's residence in Baghdad early on Sunday.

Mr Kadhimi, who was not hurt, labelled the attack “missiles of treachery” and called for restraint. The Iraqi military said it was taking “appropriate measures,” but did not identify who was suspected to be behind the attack.

The attempted assassination has escalated tensions as political parties seek to form a new government following last month's election. Iran-backed political groups, who view Mr Kadhimi as pro-US, have refused to accept the results. The pro-Iran Fatah coalition secured just 16 seats, down from 40, a reflection of low turnout, poor electoral tactics and public anger at their violence.

Supporters of Fatah, which represents several Shia militias, had attempted to enter the Green Zone, Baghdad’s seat of government, on Friday. Local media reported that violent clashes with security forces left one person dead on Saturday.


Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iran-backed militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, said on Twitter on Sunday that the explosion should be investigated by a committee, and if it turned out to be a genuine targeted attack “then we would condemn this act”.

Mr Khazali had been filmed threatening Mr Kadhimi on Saturday. “The blood of our martyrs shall avenge you,” Mr Khazali said as he railed against the killing of a protester by Iraqi forces on Saturday.

Abu Ali al-Askary, security official for the Shia militia Kita’ib Hizbollah, indirectly accused Mr Kadhimi of “playing a victim role”. Meanwhile, a pro-militia news channel, which operates on social messaging network Telegram, poked fun at the assassination attempt, saying “the living martyr Kadhimi bombs Kadhimi”.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said on Twitter that the attempt was “a new sedition” stemming from “foreign think-tanks . . . through creation and support of terrorist groups and occupation of this country for years”. Iranian outlet Nournews, affiliated to the same council, said in a report that the attack did not benefit Iranian-backed militia groups because it detracted from allegations of vote-rigging.

Appointed as a transitional prime minister after mass protests in late 2019 felled the previous government, former intelligence chief Mr Kadhimi was seen as a compromise candidate acceptable to both the US and Iran.

The Islamic republic wields strong influence in neighbouring Iraq through political allies and the Iraqi Shia militias it supports. But Mr Kadhimi angered militias when he made clear his intention to hold them accountable for their violence.

Previous administrations had attempted to control the powerful Iran-backed paramilitaries by making them part of the state security apparatus, partly as a reward for their role in the battle against jihadist insurgents Isis.

When the militias fielded candidates in 2018 elections, they did well – Fatah became the second-largest bloc in parliament. But the brutal crackdown on the 2019 protests tarnished their public perception and poor tactics hurt their performance in the October poll. An analysis by Chatham House suggested that Fatah actually took slightly more votes than the victorious Sadrists, led by populist Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

The Sadrist bloc took 73 of the 329 parliamentary seats up for grabs in October, less than the 165 seats needed for a voting majority, but a tally that makes it the largest bloc in a system designed to ensure the country’s many groups have a say.

Maria Fantappie, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue’s MENA adviser, tweeted that “security incidents are likely to continue as long as there is no intra-Shiite settlement offering these groups a share in the government which corresponds to their pre-electoral expectations”.

Many hardline Shia paramilitaries are convinced Mr Kadhimi played a role in the US assassination in Iraq of Iranian foreign military chief Qassem Soleimani, and his Iraqi lieutenant, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis. The US military used drones in the attack next to Baghdad’s international airport.

Washington condemned the attack against Mr Kadhimi early on Sunday. The US department of state called it “an apparent act of terrorism . . . directed at the heart of the Iraqi state”, and said the US was offering assistance with the investigation. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021