Drone attack on Iraqi PM’s home ‘marks escalation’ in power struggle

Drone attack on Iraqi PM’s home ‘marks escalation’ in power struggle. Senior figures in Iraq believe a brazen drone attack on the home of Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, marks an unprecedented escalation between the country’s leaders and Iran-backed militant groups attempting to overturn last month’s election.

The overnight attack is seen by Iraqi officials as an assassination attempt, and the first of its kind against a prime minister since the US-led invasion to remove Saddam Hussein nearly 19 years ago.

Kadhimi was slightly injured when a drone exploded near the front door of his residence in Baghdad’s fortified green zone. Seven of his guards sustained more significant injuries, although none were life-threatening.

Regional intelligence figures say the attack was likely launched by Iran-linked groups which lost two-thirds of their parliamentary seats in the national election and had on Friday tried to storm the green zone before being beaten back by security forces.,50807321.html

Whether the attack was ordered by Iran remains unclear. The political dominance in Baghdad between nationalist interests and blocs aligned to Iran is again being hotly contested in an increasingly unpredictable environment.

“We say the militias did this,” said one Iraqi official. “We say the Iranians maybe knew. We are not more sure than that.”

The absence of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, who exerted a powerful influence over Iran-linked militias until he was assassinated in a drone strike ordered by Donald Trump in January 2020, has however clouded even Iraqi officials’ understanding of whether acts by proxies in Iraq are ordered by figures in Iran.

“We assess that this would not have happened if Qassem Suleimani was still alive,” the official said. “There is no longer the same hold over the militia groups as there was under him. This means the link to the seat of power in Tehran is not as [strong] as it was.”

Iran-linked groups have, however, shown increasing vehemence after the election, which shredded their political muscle and bolstered the Iraqi cleric Muqtadr al-Sadr, who will play a prominent role in the months of horse-trading ahead to determine the makeup of a government and who gets to lead it.

Friday’s attempted incursion into the green zone led to the death of one protester and the wounding of several dozen members of the security force. In response, Qais al-Khazali, the leader of one of the militant groups, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, warned: “The blood of martyrs is to hold you accountable. The protesters only had one demand against fraud in elections. Responding [with live fire] means you are the first responsible for this fraud. […] Avenging the blood of the martyrs is our responsibility and we will do this by putting you on trial.”

The march on the fortified zone marked the second time this year that militia groups had attempted to make inroads into the seat of power. In June, leaders of the groups ordered their members to seize one of the main checkpoints leading across the Tigris. That move led to protracted negotiations with leaders of the groups and had weakened Kadhimi’s authority – so much so that he had seriously considered not standing for a second term.

However, a subsequent trip to Washington, where he successfully negotiated the withdrawal of remaining US forces from Iraq, was well received in Iran. “The Iranians want him to stand again,” a second Iraqi official said. “But that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have wanted this as well. It’s always complicated with them.”

One significant complication is the relatively weak hand of Suleimani’s replacement as leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Ismail Ghani, who has had a rough induction to the role pioneered by his predecessor.

“They don’t listen to him as much as they listened to Qassem,” the first official said. “In fact sometimes they don’t listen to him at all. Nowadays there are many different lines back to Iran. That authority we had gotten used to has broken down.”

While Kadhimi has not announced whether he will stand for a second term, he is widely expected to do so by allies and adversaries alike. International observers have broadly dismissed claims of irregularities in the election, which attracted a poor turnout but delivered an emphatic boost for Sadr, whose support will be key if Kadhimi is to be returned.

Ortega poised to retain Nicaraguan presidency after crackdown on rivals

Nicaragua’s authoritarian leaders, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, are poised to extend their rule over the crisis-hit Central America country with an election that opponents and much of the international community have denounced as a charade.

Ortega, the Sandinista rebel who led Nicaragua during the 1980s and has governed continuously since 2007, will seek an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in Sunday’s contest, which follows a ruthless six-month political crackdown on rivals.

Seven presidential contenders have been thrown in jail or placed under house arrest since May, while other leading critics have fled to Costa Rica, the US and Europe, and foreign journalists have been barred from the country.

In recent weeks, reporters from CNN, Le Monde, New York Times, NPR, Washington Post and the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo have all been prevented from entering Nicaragua to witness proceedings.

Tiziano Breda, a Central America specialist at Crisis Group, said Ortega’s assault on Nicaragua’s beleaguered opposition meant there was little doubt over the election result, which is expected to be announced in the early hours of Monday.

“[Ortega losing] would be quite a plot twist – but I don’t see it happening,” said Breda, predicting that the former leftwing guerrilla, who helped rescue Nicaragua from dictatorship in the 1970s, would secure between 60% and 70% of the vote.

Breda believed the repression was driven largely by Ortega’s fear of losing power and being prosecuted for a deadly 2018 crackdown on student-led protests in which hundreds were killed.

“He has shown that political survival outweighs any possible internal or external pressure. It was a matter of life or death for him to ensure re-election on Sunday,” Breda said.

Jesús Tefel, an exiled political activist who fled to Costa Rica in July after a succession of allies were jailed, described the election as a “farce” and urged the international community to do more to help re-establish Nicaragua’s battered democracy.

“What we have now in Nicaragua is a dictator and a dictatorial system, which is trampling over every single one of our rights. It’s like the perfect dictatorship,” he said of Ortega and Murillo, his powerful vice-president and wife.

“This is an awful precedent for global democracy. The message it sends is that you can be a dictator and there are no consequences. This will encourage other dictators – it will encourage the enemies of democracy,” said Tefel, a leader from the opposition group Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanca (Unab).

Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, Ortega’s estranged stepdaughter, condemned the election as “an absurdity, a stitch-up and a form of virtual reality

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