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Iran looks to shift blame for Iraqi assassination attempt to U.S.

Iran on Sunday insinuated the U.S. was behind a drone attack assassination attempt on Iraq‘s prime minister, despite evidence suggesting the attack was actually carried out by Tehran-backed militias with a history of using drones to wreak havoc in Baghdad.

The Islamic republic’s national security chief claimed the attack was the work of “foreign think tanks,” while Iran‘s foreign ministry spokesman said it was tied to forces pushing evil in the Mideast since 2003 — a veiled reference to the American invasion of Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi officials brushed the insinuations aside amid widening suspicion that it was Iran-backed militias — angry over the results of Iraq‘s recent elections — who carried out the attack on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi‘s residence in Baghdad early Sunday.

Mr. al-Kadhimi suffered only a light cut on his hand in the attack, which reportedly involved three separate drones flying in a coordinated fashion. Two were intercepted while a third exploded into the residence in the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, injuring several of the prime minister’s security guards.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though the Associated Press noted that the attack occurred amid an ongoing stand-off between Iraqi security forces and pro-Iran Shiite militias whose supporters have been camped outside the Green Zone for nearly a month since political parties they support lost roughly two-thirds of their seats in the elections.

The pro-Iran militias and security forces exchanged fire on Friday when demonstrators tried to enter the Green Zone. One protester affiliated with the militias was killed and dozens of security forces were injured. Some leaders of the most powerful militia factions, which are broadly known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), subsequently blamed Mr. al-Kadhimi for the protester’s death.

“The blood of martyrs is to hold you accountable,” said Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, addressing Mr. al-Kadhimi at a funeral held for the protester Saturday. “The protesters only had one demand against fraud in elections. Responding like this [with live fire] means you are the first responsible for this fraud.”

U.S. officials have long cited evidence of direct support for the PMF in Iraq from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Former President Trump authorized a January 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani, who had been the commander of the IRGC’s elite Quds force, which American officials say manages Iran‘s relationships with Shiite proxy militias not only in Iraq, but around the Middle East.

Soleimani was targeted while meeting in Iraq with former PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed in the 2020 strike near Baghdad’s international airport.

Since President Biden took office, the Pentagon has acknowledged other U.S. strikes targeting what officials have described as “Iran-backed militia groups” in the Iraq-Syria border region. The groups are accused of attacks on U.S. personnel in the region to support Iraqi military counter-extremism operations.

Mr. Biden on Sunday condemned and characterized the drone attack on the Iraqi prime minister’s house as a “terrorist attack,” but made no mention of Iran or the PMF.

“The perpetrators of this terrorist attack on the Iraqi state must be held accountable,” the president said in a statement. “I condemn in the strongest terms those using violence to undermine Iraq’s democratic process.”

“I have instructed my national security team to offer all appropriate assistance to Iraq’s security forces as they investigate this attack and identify those responsible,” Mr. Biden said. “The United States stands firmly with the government and people of Iraq as they strive to uphold Iraq’s sovereignty and independence.”

His comments stood in contrast to those emanating from Iran, whose state media said Iranian leaders condemned the attack, but also insinuated that it was somehow backed by Washington.

“The attempt to assassinate al-Kadhimi is a new plot that must be traced back to foreign think tanks, which have brought nothing but insecurity, discord and instability to the oppressed Iraqi people through creation and support of terrorist groups and occupation of that country for years,” Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran‘s Supreme National Security Council, wrote on his Twitter page Sunday, according to the Islamic republic’s Fars News Agency.

A separate report by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh similarly framed the incident as a plot by outside forces. “Such events are in the interests of those sides that have violated Iraq’s stability, security, independence, and territorial integrity during that past 18 years and have pursued their evil objectives in the region by creating terrorist groups and mischief-making, the spokesman stated,” according to IRNA.

Mr. al-Kadhimi, meanwhile, appeared on Iraqi television Sunday with what appeared to be a bandage on his left hand. “Cowardly rocket and drone attacks don’t build homelands and don’t build a future,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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