Iraqi PM makes ‘bandaged’ TV appearance after surviving drone attack

Mustafa al-Kadhimi appeals for ‘calm and restraint from everyone, from the sake of Iraq’

Andy Gregory
Sunday 07 November 2021 18:29 GMT
Mustafa Al-Kadhimi meets with Iraq’s president Barham Salih after a drone attack
Mustafa Al-Kadhimi meets with Iraq’s president Barham Salih after a drone attack (Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS)

Hours after surviving an alleged assassination attempt, Iraq’s prime minister led a meeting of his top security commanders and appeared on television wearing what seemed to be a bandage on his left arm.

Troops and patrols were deployed throughout Baghdad on Sunday after a drone strike on Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s official residence, which security officials said wounded six guards who were stationed outside the building.

No group has yet claimed the attack, which exacerbates tensions sparked by Iran-backed militias’ claims of fraud during last month’s parliamentary elections, which were praised by the United Nations as “technically sound”. The militias have been leading protests against the government in recent weeks.

The demonstrations came to a violent head on Friday as the demonstrators attempted to storm the Green Zone which houses government buildings and foreign embassies. They were met with tear gas and live ammunition fired by security forces in the lead-up to the drone strike, with more than 120 injuries reported by the health ministry and at least one fatality.

Mr al-Kadhimi, who has ordered an investigation into the casualties, appeared in a video shortly after the attack on his residence appealing for “calm and restraint from everyone, from the sake of Iraq”.

“Cowardly rocket and drone attacks don’t build homelands and don’t build a future,” Mr al-Kadhimi said. An aide said he had suffered a light cut, and he appeared to be wearing a white gauze bandage, which was also visible in a picture with president Barham Salih, who he met with later on Sunday to chair the security meeting.

Mr Salih went further in his condemnation of the attack on Mr al-Kadhimi’s residence, saying: “We cannot accept that Iraq will be dragged into chaos and a coup against its constitutional system.”

But speaking on condition of anonymity, a security official said it remained “premature now to say who carried out the attack”, adding: “We’re checking our intelligence reports and waiting for initial investigation results to point the finger at perpetrators.”

Three drones were used in the attack, state news agency INA quoted an interior ministry spokesman as saying – two which were intercepted and downed by security forces, and a third which hit the residence.

Iraq’s commander in chief Yahya Rasool told Beirut-based broadcaster Al-Mayadeen TV that the drone flew in from southeast Baghdad at low altitude and could not be detected by defensive systems.

Video footage released by the prime minister’s office showed damage to some parts of the residence, including smashed windows, doors blown off their hinges and a damaged SUV vehicle parked in the garage.

While suspicion immediately fell on Iran-backed militias, several faction leaders dismissed the assassination attempt on Sunday, suggesting it may be staged. Some blamed it on “third parties”.

In the strongest criticism of the prime minister, Abu Ali al-Askari, a senior leader of one of the most hardline militias, Kataib Hezbollah, questioned whether the assassination attempt was really Mr al-Kadhimi’s effort to “play the role of the victim”.

“According to our confirmed information no one in Iraq has the desire to lose a drone on the residence,” Mr al-Askari wrote in a Twitter post. “If anyone wants to harm this Facebook creature there are many ways that are less costly and more effective to realise that.”

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman condemned the drone attack and indirectly blamed the United States, claiming that such incidents “are in the interests of those parties that have invaded the stability, security, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq over the past 18 years”.

The US offered assistance with the investigation, and a State Department spokesman said: “This apparent act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, was directed at the heart of the Iraqi state.”

Mr al-Kadhimi – who was Iraq’s intelligence chief before becoming prime minister last May – said he had received calls from several world leaders on Sunday, including the heads of state of France, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

One analyst suggested the drone strike could perhaps be viewed as a warning, rather than a failed assassination attempt. “What we’ve seen in the past is the use of violence, not necessarily to assassinate, but to warn that ‘we’re here’,” Renad Mansour, head of the Chatham House think-tank’s Iraq Initiative, told The New York Times.

“I think this would also be a warning perhaps gone wrong because you can gain a bit more popularity and sympathy as the prime minister who survived an assassination attempt.”

Fears were raised that the drone strike could further destabilise the country and make a political settlement more difficult. The paper also quoted Ali al-Hussayni, a 50-year-old who owns a shop near an entrance to the Green Zone, as saying: “I am not saying people are not scared at all, but we have seen far worse than this.”

It still remains unclear when the results of the October elections will be finalised, with the country’s electoral commission forced to sift through hundreds of fraud accusations, most of which it has already dismissed citing a lack of evidence.

The initial results suggested that influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won 73 out of 329 parliament seats, while the Iran-backed Fatah Alliance – which represents the Shia paramilitary group known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces – lost two-thirds of its seats.

The furious protesters had described Friday as “the last chance for the government [and the] election commission to hold a recount of all the votes”, Al Jazeera reported.

Additional reporting by agencies

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