Why there was an attempt to assassinate Iraq’s PM

Iraq has been rocked by violence following October's election, raising fears of deepening internal divisions and broader instability. Iranian-linked parties that lost last month have since staged protests and threatened U.N. and election officials. They are widely blamed for a drone attack Sunday that targeted the prime minister’s home. Special correspondent Simona Foltyn reports from Baghdad.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's been a rise in violence in Iraq since the days since October's election, suggesting deepening internal divisions and broader instability.

    Iranian-linked parties that lost big last month have since staged protests, threatened election officials and are widely blamed for Sunday's drone attack that targeted the prime minister in his residence.

    Special correspondent Simona Foltyn reports from Baghdad.

  • Simona Foltyn:

    Camped outside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, these men represent a new test for Iraq's young, fragile democracy. They are members or supporters of pro-Iranian parties who suffered a crushing defeat in October's parliamentary vote, losing two-thirds of their seats.

    Even though the U.S., the U.N. and the E.U. praised it as transparent, they claim the election was rigged.

  • Hassan Jassem Hamoud, Candidate, Rights Movement (through translator):

    The outcome is misleading. We had our own observers, who brought us evidence of our success in securing seats.

  • Simona Foltyn:

    Complicating things further, many of the losing parties have armed wings. Hassan Jassem Hamoud ran as part of a political movement closely linked to an armed group that the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization for targeting American forces, 2, 500 of whom are still stationed in Iraq.

    Hamoud failed to win a seat and says his supporters are ready to take action.

  • Hassan Jassem Hamoud (through translator):

    If there is no action, and we continue to be penalized by the election commission and these negative results, then there will be a popular movement, and these groups here will play their role.

  • Simona Foltyn:

    Hamoud blames Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as well as the U.S. government, which backs him and which has funded the United Nations election monitoring mission, for the alleged fraud.

    As the country waits for final results, these men too wait for further instructions. On Monday, Iraq's Election Commission finalized the manual recount to address complaints filed by losing parties. No major discrepancies were found, meaning that the preliminary results are likely be endorsed by Iraq's Supreme Court.

    But these groups have shown time and again that they don't respect the rule of law. The protests turned violent last Friday, when hundreds tried to breach the Green Zone, a fortified district that houses embassies and government offices. Two men were killed when security forces opened fire.

    Both were members of another paramilitary group whose leader has been sanctioned by the U.S. for human rights abuses. Here he is visiting the protest site and threatening Prime Minister Kadhimi.

    Qais Al-Khazali, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (through translator): You, Kadhimi, hear it from me. Revenge for the blood of the martyrs is our responsibility, which will be achieved by putting you on trial.

  • Simona Foltyn:

    Hours later, three armed drones targeted the prime minister's residence, in the most brazen attack yet on the state's authority.

    Kadhimi escaped unscathed and called for calm. President Biden denounced what he called a terror attack. But some observers say the strike is an unsubtle negotiating tactic to extract concessions in forthcoming talks over government formation.

  • Farhad Alaaldin, Chairman, Iraq Advisory Council:

    As soon as we have the election announced, the results, final results announced, then we will move to the next stage, which is the beginning of the real negotiation. You will see most of what is taking place right now is going to disappear.

  • Simona Foltyn:

    And yet this election has exposed the deepening divisions among Shia parties, which have ruled Iraq through consensus since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

    That is raising fears of an intra-Shia war. Influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has cast himself as a nationalist and whose party won the election, said he wants to form a majority government, a break with the previous practice of dividing government posts among all elected parties.

    That idea of a majority government is firmly rejected here at the protest site.

  • Akram Yousif Al Saidi, Tribal Leader (through translator):

    It's impossible. This will not happen. Why? Because Muqtada Sadr doesn't represent the Shia. He only represents one side.

  • Simona Foltyn:

    For now, an uneasy calm has settled over Baghdad's streets. But with both Sadr's supporters and the Iran-linked parties armed to the teeth, the failure to reach a political agreement could ignite fresh conflict.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Simona Foltyn in Baghdad.

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