Killing Kadhimi: The non-assassination and its dramatic fallout
The alleged assassination attempt on Iraq's PM has thrown his opponents a curve ball, and they're struggling. But this is Iraq, where things can still change at a moment's notice in the heated scramble to form a new government.
By The Cradle's Iraq Correspondent
November 09 2021

Iran’s Quds Force Commander Esmail Qaani visits Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi to help de-escalate post-election strife in Baghdad

Photo Credit: The Cradle

The Iraqi scene looks increasingly like a political, security, electoral, and media battlefield for an American-Iranian showdown.

No sooner had news of an attempted drone attack against Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi emerged than Arab and Western countries began pointing fingers at Iran-backed resistance forces in Iraq.

The alleged assassination attempt followed weeks of accusations from opposition parties that Iraq’s October elections were fraudulent. Then last week, security forces fired on crowds of protestors demanding electoral transparency, injuring up to 200 civilians in the bloodbath.

Enraged protestors demanded that Kadhimi be held accountable for the carnage, and the Iraqi political scene was set to implode.

Then came the attacks on the prime minister’s residence, where nobody was killed and Kadhimi escaped unscathed. Some of Iraq’s pro-Iran resistance factions described it as “theater” orchestrated by the PM to elicit public sympathy and escape censure for his role in the shootings.

Reshuffling the election cards

Amid the volley of accusations, Iran’s Quds Force Commander Esmail Qaani arrived in Iraq on 8 November, where he immediately declared his country’s solidarity with Kadhimi, and Iran’s intent to investigate the incident.

Qaani’s objective, it appears, was to put a plug in Iraq’s post-election tensions, and bring some allies to heel.

Since the US invasion of Iraq 18 years ago, the country has not witnessed a single day of stability. When Baghdad fell in 2003, the US established a government based on sectarian divisions that would predictably fail to manage the country’s affairs and transform Iraq, instead, into a breeding ground for sectarian strife.

A subset of Iraqis revolted against these circumstances and the endemic corruption it birthed. Two years ago, a street ‘revolution’ overthrew the government of then-PM Adel Abdul-Mahdi with a knockout blow, while an alleged Iraqi intelligence operative, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, was brought in as prime minister, carrying slogans of reform.

Although Kadhimi’s ascension to the country’s top political post was, in effect, a result of an American-Iranian compromise, he did not enjoy the complete approval of either country.

Despite Tehran’s initial misgivings about Kadhimi, the latter has often played a positive mediating role between Iran and its adversaries.

However, October’s election results have essentially reversed much of the gains of pro-Iran resistance parties, with the politically-androgynous Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr sweeping up the majority of votes instead.

The current priority of each of these various parties and actors is hyper-focused on one main objective: to determine Iraq’s next prime minister.

However, the assassination attempt, which Kadhimi survived, has quite suddenly reshuffled the cards to increase his chances of assuming a new term at the head of the prospective government.

What is new today is that Iraq’s security intelligence has confirmed the identity of those responsible for carrying out the drone attack; cards Kadhimi appears to be holding close to his chest, ready to be sprung at an opportune moment.

According to a source close to the prime minister, through this information, Kadhimi seeks to turn the page on his protest-shootings dilemma, mobilize the support needed to assure himself a second term, ratify the election results – as early as this week – and ensure the first session of the new Iraqi parliament will be held this month, in which the largest political bloc will name the country’s new prime minister.

While there are several candidates to lead the new government, such as Najaf’s Governor Luay Al-Yassiry, former PM candidate Adnan Al-Zorfi, and Basra’s Governor Asaad Al-Eidani, none of them currently have the same chances as Kadhimi.

Split views in Iraq’s resistance

But a subset of Iraqis will view a second term for Kadhimi as a “declaration of war.” Several Iraqi resistance groups have long accused the PM of assisting US forces to assassinate Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) Deputy Leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis and Iran’s Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. These groups rejected Kadhimi the first time around, and have even more reason to distrust him now – especially after last week’s mass shooting.

The Iraqi resistance groups believe that Kadhimi’s actions as PM have led Iraq into a regional minefield, especially his attempt to revive Iraq’s relations with its often-hostile Arab neighbors via his ‘New Levant Project,’ launched this year at the Iraq Neighboring Countries Conference.

Despite some public accusations directed against the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades for the attempt on Kadhimi’s life, a senior Iraqi security official confirmed to The Cradle that investigations show the Hezbollah Brigades played no part in the incident. The statement issued by the group’s security official, Abu Ali Al-Askari, also downplayed the attack.

On Monday, Askari tweeted that nobody would waste a drone to target the house of a “former prime minister,” noting that “whoever wants to harm this creature, there are cheaper and more secure ways of doing it.”

Secretary-General of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq movement Qais al-Khazali said of the drone strikes: “After seeing the pictures of the explosion and noticing that there were no casualties, we stress the need to verify it by a reliable and specialized technical committee, to ascertain its cause and justifications.” Khazali pointed to earlier warnings by his group “that parties linked to intelligence agencies had intentions to bomb the Green Zone, with the aim of blaming resistance factions.”

The situation in Iraq is likely to become more complicated in the coming days due to indecisiveness, confusion and mistrust. In the past, Iraq’s tension-fraught crises were often ironed out by the mediation of the larger-than-life figures of Soleimani and Muhandes, both key rapporteurs with the various factions.

In their absence, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the most prominent external influencers in Iraqi Shia politics, are struggling to create an equilibrium among the groups, with some accusing the duo of siding with the prime minister at the expense of their own allies.

Last week, rumors believed to have been circulated by Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (who does not hide his own ambition for the PM post) went viral on social media about the expulsion of Muhammad Kawtharani, Lebanese Hezbollah’s main emissary in Iraq. The reports are baseless; Kawtharani remains in Iraq.

Private sources revealed to The Cradle that there was dissonance between the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades, caused by the latter accusing Kawtharani of favoring Kadhimi and supporting his second-term ambitions.

After his meeting with Kadhimi, Quds Force Commander Esmail Qaani met with the leaders of these resistance factions and clearly informed them that Iran disapproves of acts that endanger Iraq’s stability. Qaani, furthermore, warned the groups of a US scheme to lure them into a trap leading to a violent security deterioration that cannot be contained.

According to a source close to Kadhimi, Iran has been actively working to instill calm following Iraq’s election protests, but this does not change the view of resistance factions that the prime minister – whose relationship with Iran was skin-deep at best – was not an Iranian choice, but in fact an extension of the nefarious American-Gulf project in Iraq.

They roll their eyes at the notion that Khadimi, who did not enjoy an American and Gulf consensus on his leadership, now has those same countries rushing to offer condemnations against the assassination attempt. The PM who made the US sign its exit papers from Iraq is receiving American condolences?

During the 18 years of US occupation, Baghdad was bombed in the ‘name of democracy,’ and today, Iraq’s nascent democracy was bombed by three drone strikes. One side rejects election results, while the other side resorts to violence to squash that dissent. Iraq’s next prime minister – whoever that is – will not have gained his position democratically, but through dangerous political games and distractions.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.
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