Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has attempted to defuse tensions, calling for “a constructive dialogue for Iraq and its future” following an apparent assassination attempt in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The attack has been roundly condemned by regional leaders and the wider international community. U.S. President Joe Biden called the attempt on Kadhimi a “terrorist attack” and has offered “all appropriate assistance” to Iraq’s security forces to help investigate.
The failed plot involved the use of three explosives-laden drones, Iraqi authorities said, adding that two were shot down before they could reach their target. Appearing on video soon after the attack, Kadhimi appeared only lightly injured, wearing a bandage on his wrist.
While the Iraqi government has formed a committee to investigate the attack, no suspects have been named.
The weapons of choice, and the context in which they were launched, indicates the involvement of Iran-backed local militias. The political wings of the militias suffered heavy losses in October’s parliamentary elections and hundreds of supporters have protested outside Baghdad’s fortified green zone in recent days, claiming fraud tipped the results.
The protests turned deadly on Friday, when hundreds attempted to breach the green zone’s fortifications. At least one protester was killed, with a further 120 injured.
Abu Ali al-Askari, the name used by the leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, denied his group’s involvement, suggesting the operation was a false flag to garner sympathy for Kadhimi. “If there is anyone who wants to harm this Facebook creature there are many ways that are less costly and more guaranteed to achieve this,” Askari said.
Iran, like everyone else, has condemned the attack, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh pointing the finger vaguely toward Washington: “Such incidents are in line with the interests of parties that have violated the stability, security, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq over the past 18 years, and through creation of terrorist and seditionist groups, seek to achieve their sinister objectives in the region.”
Republicans in the U.S. Congress have called for a forceful response from President Joe Biden, tying the attack to the U.S. approach to international nuclear negotiations with Iran, set to resume on Nov. 29. Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said a response to “Iran’s aggression” should involve ending “the farce of the nuclear talks and go back to a maximum pressure approach without delay.”
While the attack is a low point, some analysts have suggested Sunday’s attack was likely meant as intimidation rather than assassination.
Patrick Osgood, a senior analyst with the consultancy Control Risks, said on Twitter that there was “a significant prospect that the attack, by being near-universally recognized as having gone too far, marks the high point of brinkmanship from which post-elections compromise will begin.”
Lahib Higel, a senior Iraq analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the attack indicates attempts by pro-Iran groups to influence a new government may have “reached the ceiling of escalation.