Strike on Kadhimi shows Iran losing control over Shia militias in Iraq: US officials
The drone strike which targeted Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was likely not sanctioned by Iran but rather showed Tehran’s waning control over Shia militias in the country, US officials told NBC News.
Iraq’s military said on Sunday Kadhimi’s residence in Baghdad’s Green Zone was targeted by an explosive-laden drone in a “failed assassination attempt”, but the PM was unharmed.
Iraqi security officials and sources close to Iraqi militias told Reuters the attack was carried out by at least one Iran-backed militia group, and the drones and explosives used were Iranian-made.
The commander of US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie told Al-Hurra TV the attack was carried out by Iranian-backed militias.
Shia militias are at odds with Kadhimi after the results of last month’s parliamentary elections which saw some of their political candidates perform poorly. The militias have organized several protests alleging the vote was fraudulent.
The US officials told NBC News that the attack showed how Iran “has struggled to corral quarrelling Shia militia leaders in Iraq” since the US killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in 2020.
“It's fair to say that Iran does not have as much control over these groups since Soleimani was killed,” a US official said.
Iran has long been accused of fanning the flames of violence in the Middle East through its financial and military support to its network of Shia proxies in the region, specifically in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.
Tehran condemned the attack on Kadhimi and denied any involvement. The Iranian regime sent the commander of Iran’s Quds Force Esmail Ghaani to visit Baghdad after the assassination attempt. The Quds Force is responsible for military operations outside Iran.
Douglas Silliman, who served as US ambassador to Iraq from 2016 to 2019, said that the assassination of Kadhimi was not to in Iran's strategic interests, as it would risk unleashing a volatile chain of events on its border.
“I would be very surprised if Iran ordered a drone strike on Kadhimi. Iran does not want to see a completely destabilized Iraq. They simply want an Iraq that is off balance enough that they can have significant influence, both political and economic,” he said.
Silliman added that since the assassination of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was the deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashed Sha’abi) and the de facto leader of the pro-Iranian militias, there has been a power struggle among militia leaders in Iraq.
“I think the tension is as much among the leadership of Iraqi Shia militia leaders as it is between the militias and Tehran.”