A top Iranian general visited Baghdad after an assassination attempt against Iraq’s prime minister said Tehran and its allies had nothing to do with the drone strike, which left the Iraqi leader with minor injuries, two Iraqi politicians said on Monday.
News of the visit came after an Iraqi military general said an investigation into the drone strike against Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was ongoing, but that the signs pointed to groups backed by Iran. The general said the drone used in the attack on Monday took off from areas east of the capital, where Iran-backed militias have influence.
The drone strike was also similar to attacks by Iran-backed groups in Iraq in the past. For example, in September, explosives-laden drones targeted Erbil International Airport in the country’s north, where US-led coalition forces are stationed, the army general told the Associated Press. He commented on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Two Shia Muslim politicians requested anonymity because Ismail Ghani’s visit had not been publicly announced. He quoted the Iranian general as saying that Tehran does not oppose any politician nominated by the Shia bloc in the newly elected parliament to become the next prime minister.
Ghani is the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, which is primarily responsible for military and covert operations outside the country.
Iran has a massive influence in Iraq through powerful fighters supported over the years. Both Iran and Iraq have majority Shia populations.
The failed assassination attempt against Kadhimi at his residence has heightened tensions after last month’s parliamentary elections, in which Iran-backed militias were the worst losers.
Kadimi suffered a minor cut and appeared in a televised speech shortly after the attack at his residence wearing a white shirt and a bandage around his left wrist. At least seven of his security guards were injured in the attack by two armed drones.
There was no claim of responsibility, but suspicion immediately fell on the Iran-backed militias. He was blamed for previous attacks on the Green Zone, which also houses foreign embassies.
Militia leaders condemned the attack, but most tried to downplay it.
Two Iraqi politicians quoted Ghani as saying: “Iran has nothing to do with the attack.”
One of the two officials said Ghani met Kadimi in Baghdad on Sunday afternoon.
Lebanon’s al-Manar TV, which is run by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, said Ghani also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih and other political figures in the country.
It quoted Ghani during his visit as saying that “Iraq has an urgent need to calm down.” It added that Ghani also said that any act that threatens Iraq’s security should be avoided.
The drone strike was a dramatic escalation in an already tense situation following the October 10 vote and surprising result in which Iran-backed militias lost about two-thirds of their seats.
Despite the low turnout, the results confirmed a growing wave of discontent against the militias, which had been hailed years earlier as heroes for fighting Islamic State militants.
But the militias have lost popularity since 2018 when they made huge electoral gains. Many Iraqis blame him for suppressing the 2019 youth-led anti-government protests and undermining the authority of the state.
Some analysts have said Sunday’s attack was aimed at cutting off a path that could lead to a second Kadimi term for those who lost recent elections.
On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the assassination attempt on Kadimi and indirectly blamed the US.
Kadimi, 54, was Iraq’s former intelligence chief before becoming prime minister in May 2020. He is considered close to the US by the militias and has tried to strike a balance between Iraq’s alliances with both the US and Iran.