Iraq PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi survives drone attack at residence. What we know so far
Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt early on Sunday when his residence in Baghdad was hit in an apparent drone attack, the country's officials said, adding that al-Kadhimi was unharmed in the strike and is believed to be in good health. It was the military that described the strike as an “assassination attempt” and, in an official statement released moments later, said the security forces are taking all necessary measures in connection with this “failed attempt”.
What we know so far
The attack on the Iraqi prime minister's residence was carried out by an armed drone laden with explosives, according to the statement from the country's military.
Two Iraqi officials told the Associated Press, on the condition of anonymity (since they were not authorised to give out official statements) that seven of prime minister al-Kadhimi's guards were injured in the attack. The officials said the drone strike actually took place in the Green Zone, a heavily fortified region in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government statement, released by the state-run media moments after news of the drone strike broke, also confirmed that the failed assassination attempt was with “an explosives-laden drone” that tried to target al-Kadhimi's residence in the Green Zone.
As far as the residents of Baghdad are concerned, no reports of injuries have arrived so far. The Associated Press stated that residents of the city heard the sound of an explosion, followed by gunfire, from the general direction of the Green Zone on early Sunday morning, shortly before news of the drone strike broke. Western diplomats based in the Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies, also told the Reuters news agency that they heard explosions and gunfire in the area.
Who is behind the attack?
It is not immediately clear who is behind the attack on the residence, nor has any group claimed responsibility yet.
The drone strike, however, comes amid a stand-off between security forces and heavily armed Shia militias aligned with Iran. In recent weeks, these pro-Iran groups have staged demonstrations near the Green Zone, protesting against the results of a general election last month which dealt a blow to their parliamentary power.
One of these protests on Friday had even turned deadly when the demonstrators, having already rejected the results of the elections in which they were the biggest losers, marched toward the Green Zone and exchanged fire with security forces posted there. One of the protesters died in the resulting crossfire, news agencies reported, adding that dozens of security forces were also injured. Following the clashes, al-Kadhimi had ordered an investigation to determine which side initiated the conflict and who violated orders not to open fire.
Why are the election results being contested?
Although the United States and the UN Security Council (UNSC) have praised the October 10 election, which was mostly violence-free and without major technical glitches, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have cast a shadow over the vote.
The election, which was held months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019, saw the biggest gains made by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who won the largest number of parliament seats – 73 out of 329. While he maintains good relations with Iran, al-Sadr publicly opposes external interference in Iraq's affairs.
However, pro-Iran militia supporters claim mass voter fraud took place in the elections, an assertion that has not yet been substantiated with verifiable evidence. The standoff with the militia supporters has also increased tensions among rival Shia factions that could reflect on the street and threaten Iraq's newfound relative stability. These factions have also protested against the heavy-handed interference of neighbouring Iran in Iraq's affairs through Iran-backed militias.
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. The protests appeared to be aimed at pressuring al-Sadr to ensure that Iran-aligned factions are part of the next cabinet. As the winner, al-Sadr's bloc will seek coalition partners and name the prime minister.
(With inputs from agencies)