November 20, 2021
A few days ago, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt following the heavy loss of the pro-Iran Shiite militias in Iraq’s parliamentary elections on 10 October and their protests to reject the results of the elections.
The assassination operation was reportedly carried out by three drones carrying explosives targeting the residence of al-Kadhimi in the most fortified Green Zone. Two of the drones were shot down when they were flying towards their target, according to formal Iraqi security sources. Gunfire sounded and smoke was seen rising from the Green Zone area after the strike. Photos issued by Kadhimi’s office show debris scattered on the ground below a damaged exterior stairway and a door that had been dislodged.
Two of al-Kadhimi’s bodyguards were reportedly wounded and al-Kadhimi himself was seen with a bandaged hand in a televised statement in which he announced that he had survived the assassination. The Iraqi PM also called for calm and restrain saying: “my residence has been the target of a cowardly assault. Praise God, I am fine and so are those who work with me.”
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt by the drones carrying explosives and outlets linked to the Shiite Iran-backed militias quickly denied responsibility accusing al-Kadhimi or Western intelligence of faking the drone attack. Their argument is built on questioning why the defence systems installed by the Americans to protect the US embassy and other buildings in Baghdad’s Green Zone did not fire to destroy the drones launched to target al-Kadhimi’s residency.
However, the spokesperson of Kataib Hezbollah, the most powerful militia linked to Tehran, Abu Ali al-Askari posted a statement claiming that “no Iraqi would desire to expend a drone on the house of the outgoing Prime Minister,” going on to note that if anyone did wish to do so, there would be “many less expensive ways to achieve that.”
For his part, Qais al-Khazaili, the leader of another notorious Iran-backed militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq, echoed the false-flag narrative, noting that any perpetrators should be investigated because the incident at Kadhimi’s residence was “an attempt to muddy the waters just one day after the clear crime of murdering protestors and assaulting them and burning their tents.”
However, the attack came as hundreds of members of pro-Iran militias had suffered heavy losses in the polls and clashed with security forces in Baghdad near the heavily fortified Green Zone. Having performed poorly in the elections, the militias such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah integrated efforts to stage protests at the Green Zone carrying slogans against al-Kadhimi’s government attempting to drag Iraqi security forces into violent confrontations. Earlier, on November 5, Qais al-Khaza’li had threatened al-Kadhimi calling for legal action against him.
Interestingly, al-Kadhimi is the first head of state that has been targeted using drones by pro-Iran military groups. Drones were used before by pro-Iran Houthi rebels in Yemen on a military parade organised by the Yemeni government killing seven, including senior Yemeni officials in January 2019. The Houthis reportedly used in that attack the off-the-shelf commercial technology in the form of an Iranian-made Qasef-1.
Over the past few years, the Houthis have also used conventional weapons of ballistic missiles against their adversaries such as Saudi Arabia. More recently, the Houthis’s strategy seems to have involved using low-tech drones alongside sophisticated missiles for the effectiveness of the former. Drones have been primarily used in their warfare against Saudi Arabia. It appears that the pro-Iran militias in Iraq are using a similar strategy which is reflected in the recent assassination attempt against the Iraqi Prime Minister al-Kadhimi. This new trend of warfare used by the Iranian-linked militias in Iraq and Yemen signals worrying instability for the future of these countries and the entire region.
Tehran has begun to realise that drones have become the most feasible tool used by world powers such as the United State and even by extremist groups such as the Islamic State (IS). The United States has used drones after it declared its war on terror, while the IS used them to strike back in 2017.
It appears that the assassination attempt against al-Kadhimi by Tehran’s proxies in Iraq was inspired by the success of the drone strikes ordered by the former US President Donald Trump against the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force and the deputy leader of Iraq’s paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and leader of Kataib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January 2020.
Similarly, the IS group used drones in its intelligence-gathering tasks and its propaganda war back in 2014. In the later years, the extremist group has used drones as air carriers of improvised explosive devices (IED)s to target the interests of their enemies including on battlefields.
Tehran’s allies in Yemen and Iraq have also used drones to terrorise their adversaries and to inspire their supporters. Both the drones used to target the officers participating in the military parade in Yemen and the drones aimed to target al-Kadhimi, though the latter failed to kill al-Kadhimi, were aimed to send messages to terrorise the victims and expose their vulnerability.
Additionally, using drones as assassination tools against al-Kadhimi in Iraq and the military parade in Yemen indicates that Tehran might have realised that using drones agiasnt its foes at the hands of its proxies is less expensive and more convenient.
The conventional war weapons carried out by both state and non-state actors such as car bombing, suicide bombings, mortar shells and military aircraft featured the warfares of the 20th century while drones have emerged as the most used flying IED in the 21st century. These parties appreciate how drones can serve as a means to terrorise enemies.
The new warfare trend that involves using drones against adversaries of Tehran and its proxies in Iraq and Yemen also alludes to the evolution of their tools of terrorism in the 21st century. This terrorising tool is a worrying potential because it can wreak significant instability in the region.