Iraqi Prime Minister’s residence targeted by drone strike, military says

BAGHDAD — A drone targeted the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad early Sunday, the army said, signaling a major escalation as Iran-linked groups contest the results of last month’s elections.

“I am fine,” Kadhimi posted in a message to Twitter, thanking God and calling for restraint. According to the military, the attack was a failed assassination attempt and security forces are taking all necessary measures to ensure that they follow up.

The explosion, as well as follow-up gunfire, was heard throughout central Baghdad. The attack was not immediately claimed to be the responsibility.

A source close to Kadhimi said that several members of his security detail had suffered light injuries in Sunday’s attack, but they did not provide a full accounting of the damage.

The drone attack came hours after Iraqi supporters of Iran-linked militia groups held a funeral march for a man killed by security forces Friday when crowds tried to storm the Green Zone — which houses Iraqi government offices and Western embassies — from two sides.

More than 125 people were wounded in those clashes, most of them members of the security forces, as militia supporters decried Iraq’s Oct. 10 parliamentary elections as fraudulent.

Although broadly accepted as legitimate by international observers, the results have sparked growing tensions in the country. The largest share of country’s seats went to populist Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr, while the Fatah-linked alliance with Iran was cut by two-thirds. Despite winning the most votes.

Iran-linked armed groups have been blamed for dozens of rocket and drone strikes on the Green Zone and other U.S.-linked military targets in recent years, with the pace often increasing during sensitive political moments.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have grown increasingly alarmed over the recent use of small fixed-wing drones that have evaded detection systems around military bases and diplomatic facilities. Diplomats and military officials claim that drones fly at times too low for defense systems to pick up.

The U.S. State Department condemned the attack as “an apparent act of terrorism” and said it was in contact with the Iraqi security forces and had offered assistance in the investigation.

The spike in tensions here over the weekend followed indications that Sadr may be pushing ahead with the formation of a government that marginalizes Fatah. After its militias were involved in hundreds of deaths in an uprising against the government in 2019., Iran-backed alliance in Iraq has been losing popularity. Although the demonstrations started as an outcry against corruption, they quickly morphed in to a rebellion against the whole political system.

Kadhimi came to power in May of last year, after those demonstrations toppled his predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi. The Oct. 10 elections were held early as a concession to the demonstrators, but most Iraqis chose not to vote in the end, citing deep disillusionment in the possibility for elections to change what they see as a largely unaccountable political system forged in the wake of America’s 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Although the prime minister has repeatedly said that he wants to bring the country’s militia network under state control, efforts to check their power have made little headway.

The arrest of militants linked to rocket attacks near the U.S. Embassy in June 2019 caused an immediate backlash. The pickup truck-carrying gunmen who toured Baghdad’s Green Zone in search of their compatriots were arrested and released. They were welcomed back at the headquarters by the group as heroes.

A similarly high-profile effort this summer to arrest another senior militia official, Qassem Muslem, resulted in a media firestorm and his release, with judges citing a lack of evidence.

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