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Nov. 7, 2021, 4:44 p.m. EST

Tensions rise in Iraq after assassination attempt on prime minister

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By Associated Press

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Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition. There was an exchange of fire in which one protester affiliated with the militias was killed. Dozens of security forces were injured. Al-Khadimi ordered an investigation.

“The blood of martyrs is to hold you accountable,” said Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, addressing al-Kadhimi in recorded comments to supporters. He blamed him for election fraud.

In the strongest criticism of the prime minister, Abu Ali al-Askari, a senior leader with one of the hardline pro-Iran militias, Kataib Hezbollah, questioned whether the assassination attempt was really 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” of al-Kadhimi, 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 realize that.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the assassination attempt on al-Khadimi and indirectly blamed the U.S.

The escalation also reveals a level of nervousness among Iran and its allies as they realize that political results don’t always translate into control, said Joseph Bahout, a director of research at the American University of Beirut.

“This is an act depicting fear of loss of control. Al-Khadimi is being now perceived as a Trojan horse for more erosion of Iran’s grip on the country,” Bahout said.

Al-Kadhimi, 54, was Iraq’s former intelligence chief before becoming prime minister in May last year. He is considered by the militias to be close to the U.S., and has tried to balance between Iraq’s alliances with both the U.S. and Iran.

Prior to the elections, he hosted several rounds of talks between regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad in a bid to ease regional tensions.

Marsin Alshamary, an Iraqi-American research fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, said the attack resurfaced the long-term challenge of how to curb the powers of the militias without triggering a civil war.

For al-Kadhami, the stakes are now higher if he is to remain as prime minister.

“He doesn’t have a political party and so he is susceptible to direct attack with no party to negotiate or protect him,” she added.

Iraq’s election commission has yet to announce the final results. The parliament could then convene, elect a president and form a government.

The U.S., the U.N. Security Council and others have praised the election, which was mostly violence-free and without major technical glitches.

But the unsubstantiated fraud claims have cast a shadow over the vote. The standoff with the militia supporters has increased tensions among rival Shiite factions that could spill into violence and threaten Iraq’s newfound relative stability.

Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who won the largest number of parliament seats in the Oct. 10 elections, denounced the “terrorist attack,” which he said seeks to return Iraq to the lawlessness and chaos of the past. While al-Sadr maintains good relations with Iran, he publicly opposes external interference in Iraq’s affairs.

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