BAGHDAD — A drone targeted the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad early Sunday, the army said, signaling a major escalation as Iran-linked groups contest the results of last month’s elections.
The explosion, as well as follow-up gunfire, was heard throughout central Baghdad. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
A source close to Kadhimi said that several members of his security detail had suffered light injuries in Sunday’s attack, but they did not provide a full accounting of the damage.
The drone attack came hours after Iraqi supporters of Iran-linked militia groups held a funeral march for a man killed by security forces Friday when crowds tried to storm the Green Zone — which houses Iraqi government offices and Western embassies — from two sides.
More than 125 people were wounded in those clashes, most of them members of the security forces, as militia supporters decried Iraq’s Oct. 10 parliamentary elections as fraudulent.
Although broadly accepted as legitimate by international observers, the results have sparked growing tensions in the country. As populist cleric Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr emerged with the biggest share of the country’s parliamentary seats, the Iran-linked Fatah alliance saw its share cut by around two-thirds, despite winning the largest numbers of votes.
Iran-linked armed groups have been blamed for dozens of rocket and drone strikes on the Green Zone and other U.S.-linked military targets in recent years, with the pace often increasing during sensitive political moments.
Iraqi and U.S. officials have grown increasingly alarmed over the recent use of small fixed-wing drones that have evaded detection systems around military bases and diplomatic facilities. Military officials and diplomats say that the drones sometimes fly too low to be picked up by defensive systems.
The U.S. State Department condemned the attack as “an apparent act of terrorism” and said it was in contact with the Iraqi security forces and had offered assistance in the investigation.
The spike in tensions here over the weekend followed indications that Sadr may be pushing ahead with the formation of a government that marginalizes Fatah. The Iran-backed alliance has lost popularity in Iraq in recent years, after its militias participated in the slaying of hundreds of young men and women who joined an anti-government uprising in 2019. The demonstrations began as a cry against corruption but swiftly morphed into a revolt against the entire political system.
Kadhimi came to power in May of last year, after those demonstrations toppled his predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi. The Oct. 10 elections were held early as a concession to the demonstrators, but most Iraqis chose not to vote in the end, citing deep disillusionment in the possibility for elections to change what they see as a largely unaccountable political system forged in the wake of America’s 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Although the prime minister has repeatedly said that he wants to bring the country’s militia network under state control, efforts to check their power have made little headway.
The arrest of militants linked to rocket attacks near the U.S. Embassy in June 2019 caused an immediate backlash. After gunmen in pickup trucks cruised Baghdad’s Green Zone demanding their comrades’ release, most were let go and welcomed back to the group’s headquarters as heroes.
A similarly high-profile effort this summer to arrest another senior militia official, Qassem Muslem, resulted in a media firestorm and his release, with judges citing a lack of evidence.