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Iraq says drone strike targeted prime minister

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt with armed drones that targeted his residence early on Sunday, officials said he was unharmed.

Two Iraqi officials told The Associated Press that seven of Mr. al-Kadhimi’s security guards were injured in the attack, which involved two armed drones and occurred in the heavily fortified Green Zone of Baghdad. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to make official statements.

“The rockets of treason will not undermine the steadfastness and determination of the heroic security forces at all,” Mr. al-Kadhimi said on Twitter shortly after the attack. “I am well and among my people. Thank God.”

The attack appears to be a major escalation in tensions sparked by the refusal of Iranian-backed militias to accept the results of last month’s parliamentary elections.

In a statement, the Iraqi government said the drones had targeted Mr. al-Kadhimi’s home. Residents of Baghdad heard the sound of an explosion followed by gunfire from the green zone, which houses foreign embassies and government offices.

The government statement, which was released by state media, said the failed assassination attempt was with “an explosive-laden drone that attempted to target his residence in the green zone.”

“The security forces are taking the necessary measures in the context of this failed attempt,” he said.

It was not clear who was behind the attack, and no one immediately claimed responsibility.

It intervened in the midst of a standoff between security forces and pro-Iranian Shiite militias whose supporters have been camping outside the green zone for nearly a month, since the rejection of the results of the Iraqi parliamentary elections, of which they were the biggest losers.

“The assassination attempt is a dramatic escalation, crossing a line in an unprecedented way that can have violent reverberations,” Ranj Alaaldin, a non-resident member of the Brookings Institution, said in a Twitter post.

The protests turned deadly on Friday as protesters marched towards the green zone. There was an exchange of gunfire in which a protester affiliated with the militias was killed. Dozens of members of the security forces were injured. Mr. al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation to determine what prompted the clashes and who broke orders not to open fire.

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

“The blood of the martyrs must hold you accountable,” said Qais al-Khazali, militia leader Asaib Ahl al-Haq, addressing Mr. al-Kadhimi at a funeral organized for the protester.

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

The United States, the UN Security Council and others have praised the October 10 elections, which were conducted for the most part without violence and without major technical glitches.

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

Unfounded allegations of electoral fraud cast a shadow over the vote. The standoff with militia supporters has also heightened tensions between rival Shiite factions that could threaten Iraq’s regained relative stability.

The election came months ahead of schedule in response to mass protests in late 2019, which saw tens of thousands in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern provinces rally against rampant corruption, mediocrity services and unemployment. They also protested against neighboring Iran’s brutal interference in Iraqi affairs through Iranian-backed militias.

The militias have lost some popularity since a vote in 2018, when they made big electoral gains. Many hold them responsible for cracking down on the 2019 protests and challenging state authority.

The biggest gains came from influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc won the most seats in parliament, 73 out of 329. Although he enjoys good relations with Iran, Mr. al-Sadr publicly opposes outside interference in Iraqi affairs. .

The protests appeared to be aimed at putting pressure on Mr. al-Sadr to ensure that factions aligned with Iran are part of the next cabinet. As the winner, the al-Sadr bloc will seek coalition partners and appoint the prime minister.

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