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Iraq Says Drone Strike Was Aimed at Prime Minister

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi of Iraq survived an assassination attempt with armed drones that targeted his residence early Sunday, according to officials who 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 Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone area. 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,” Mr. al-Kadhimi said on Twitter shortly after the attack. “I am fine and among my people. Thank God.”

The attack appeared to be a major escalation of tensions prompted by the refusal of Iran-backed militias to accept the parliamentary election results last month.

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 direction of the Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and government offices.

The government’s statement, which was released by state-run media, said the failed assassination attempt was with “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.

It was not clear who was behind the attack, nor did anyone immediately claim responsibility.

It came amid a standoff between security forces and pro-Iran Shiite militias whose supporters have been camped outside the Green Zone for nearly a month, since rejecting 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, said in a post on Twitter.

Protests turned deadly on 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 members of the security forces were injured. Mr. al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation to determine what had incited the clashes and who had violated orders not to open fire.

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

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

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.

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 after 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 vote. The standoff with the militia supporters has also increased tensions among rival Shiite factions that could threaten Iraq’s newfound relative stability.

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

The militias have lost some popularity since a 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 biggest gains were made by the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc won the largest number of parliament seats, 73 out of 329. Although he maintains good relations with Iran, Mr. al-Sadr publicly opposes external interference in Iraq’s affairs.

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

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