Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi Image Credit: REUTERS

Tension in Iraq reached an unexpectedly dangerous level on Sunday when the residence of the Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi was targeted by an armed drone in an apparent assassination attempt, according to military officials.

The Prime Minister was unharmed but the attack will surely raise stakes in an increasingly tense standoff between the government and some of the armed militia, most backed by Iran, that lost the recent elections.

The attack wounded six members of Al Kadhimi’s personal protection team and his house, in the heavily-protected Green Zone, was damaged. According to the interior ministry, three drones were used in the attack, including two that were intercepted and downed by security forces while a third drone hit the residence.

Despite the ongoing security troubles in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003, this is the first direct attack on the country’s top leader since the May 2004 assassination of Izzedine Salim, who was then the president of the Iraqi Governing Council by a suicide bomber at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

However, in the past two years, Iraq has witnessed a series of assassinations of several officials and activists. Last June, the deputy director of the country’s intelligence service was shot dead outside his house in Baghdad.

The attack on Al Kadhimi’s residence also came few days after violent clashes in Baghdad between government forces and supporters of the Iran-backed political parties that lost the October 10 polls, which dealt a significant blow to those armed militias. Al Kadhimi, unlike some of his predecessors, is not particularly fond of Iran, despite the disproportionate influence Tehran enjoys in Iraq.

Since his appointment last year, Al Kadhimi has walked a thin line to balance Iraq’s ties with its neighbours, but with a particular emphasis on restoring Baghdad’s historic relationships with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and other Gulf countries. He also voiced plans to regulate the proliferation of arms in the country, which has suffered for years from internal strife and terrorism.

During the fights against Daesh between 2014-2017, dozens of militias, many close to Iran, have been armed to join the battle against the terrorist group. However, the government failed to disarm those groups following the defeat of Daesh.

Many of these groups have since yielded undue influence over politics in Iraq — using intimidation to impact the national decision-making process. Al Kadhimi’s sources have recently said that he was planning to build on the recent elections results, in which most of these groups lost, to initiate the long-due drive to assert the government’s authority over unregulated arms possession.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Prime Minister’s residence. But most in Iraq have some idea of who is behind it. Most importantly, they realise that it is just the latest act of a broader fight to thwart the process of rebuilding a sovereign, independent and prosperous Iraq at peace inside and with its neighbours.