Why Did Iran Just Try to Assassinate Iraq’s Prime Minister?

An IED goes off near some Marines. / Photo by the Marine Corps on Flickr

On November 7, Iranian-backed terrorist militias launched a coordinated suicide drone attack intended to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at his residence in Baghdad. Iraqi authorities said that security forces were able to down two of the drones that targeted the prime minister, with the third one hitting his residence. 

The Hill reported that “Six people on al-Kadhimi’s security team were injured from the attack, as they were outside of the prime minister’s residence in the Green Zone. The attempted assassination comes weeks after the country held general elections that were heavily influenced by Iraqi-backed militia groups, causing a low voter turnout.”

The election however produced significant losses for Iran-backed militia groups. Something Iran was not pleased with.

Per our earlier report, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Kata’ib Hezbollah militants backed by Iran appear to be the groups behind the assassination attempt, even as President Biden avoids naming Iran.

But what are their goals?

According to a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) Iran and its proxies intended the attack to accomplish three primary objectives:

  1. To force the formation of a consensus government that includes Iranian proxy representatives despite their electoral losses. The primary target of this attack was not Kadhimi, but nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the bloc that won the most seats in Iraq’s October 10 elections. Sadr is attempting to form a coalition government that excludes Iran’s political proxies to cement his own influence in Iraq.[13] His premier of choice is a second-term Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Iran’s proxies used this attack to signal to Sadr that they will destroy Iraq’s political system if he does not allow them to participate in it.

  2. To remove Kadhimi from contention as the next prime minister. Iran’s proxies oppose Kadhimi due to his attempts to limit proxy corruption, hold proxy militias accountable for terrorist attacks and assassinations, and protect the results of Iraq’s October elections, in addition to his efforts to preserve the US military presence in Iraq. Kadhimi has repeatedly tried to crack down on proxy activity to a greater extent than all other Iraqi prime ministers. His failure to hold them accountable is beside the point; his unwillingness to be cowed by proxy threats makes him too dangerous (or perhaps simply too inconvenient) to remain in power.
    Iran’s proxies likely calculated that this attack would accomplish this objective regardless of Kadhimi’s survival. If he died or was severely injured, he would be out of the running. But even if he survived, they may have assessed that he is likely to resign to avert greater violence.

  3. To demonstrate and reinforce Iran’s primacy in Iraq. The attack represents a significant shift in Tehran’s Iraq policy since Iran helped put Kadhimi into office in May 2020. A nationalist Sadr-led government without Iranian proxy participation would be unacceptable to an Iranian regime committed since 2003 to never allow a hostile government to emerge in Baghdad again. Permitting the attack on Kadhimi demonstrates to Iraqis and other regional powers that Iran will retain its veto power over major domestic or foreign policy issues in Iraq.

EXPECT more Iran-sponsored or approved violence in Iraq. Especially as Team Biden appears unable or unwilling to call Iran out on its terrorism. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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Jawad
Jawad
27 days ago

The Irani Shias and the Iraqi Sunnis have been at it for generations, ever since Ali. Why should they suddenly cease being at each others’ throats now?


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