Early Sunday morning, drones bombed the house of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. While no one has taken credit for the attack, there is little doubt that it was carried out either by Iran or one of its Iraqi proxy militias. Just a month ago, the country had its fifth democratic parliamentary election since it was liberated from Saddam Hussein’s rule. It resulted the party representing the pro-Tehran militias won fewer seats than expected. Michael Knights provides some important background:
This is not the first time that militias have targeted Kadhimi and those close to him. Kadhimi’s first physical confrontation with Iran-backed militias came during the previous government formation process in April 2020, when nearly 100 armed militiamen from the Iran-supported terrorist group Kataib Hizballah (KH) surrounded Kadhimi and his security detail at the Prime Minister’s Guesthouse, a kind of hotel for government officials and visitors. At the time, Kadhimi’s position was head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service. Though well-protected, his men were no match for a hundred militiamen, some carrying rocket-propelled grenades designed to blow up armored vehicles and bunkers.
Kadhimi’s step-by-step pushback against the militias is a frustratingly slow-burn strategy: one replacement of a compromised officer, one terrorism arrest, and one anti-corruption case at a time. But the arrests are building up, and the court cases are bearing fruit. Such work takes time, and Iraqis are rightfully impatient. Yet while any Iraqi prime minister can easily become a dictator and a death-squad commander, Kadhimi does not want rivers of blood in Baghdad if steadily chipping away can reduce the risk to ordinary people. This is why Iraq’s security forces arrest militiamen instead of summarily executing them, even though they may later be released due to corruption and intimidation.
Rule of law does still matter to some in Iraq, and they continue to believe they can win through it rather than by going beyond it. Kadhimi is one of the Iraqis who continues to advocate the rule of law, and the international community should recognize how rare it is to find a leader who chooses not to unleash brutality when he is under intense pressure to do so.