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US Embassy, ​​civilian targets attacked in Iraq

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US Embassy, ​​civilian targets attacked in Iraq

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BAGHDAD—Rockets targeted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and men on motorbikes threw grenades at the offices of political rivals of Iran-backed militias, threatening a new spiral of violence as Iraq s is about to form a new government after last year’s parliamentary elections.

A week after Iraqi militias struck bases housing US forces, Thursday’s and Friday’s attacks marked a shift in focus, with civilian targets coming under heavy fire. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

One of the rockets landed in a primary school inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, the heavily fortified area of ​​diplomatic and government buildings in the center of the city, injuring a woman and a young child, while the defenses US embassy air raids shot down two more missiles, Iraqi security forces said. Three separate attacks targeted political parties opposed to the influence of the country’s powerful militias.

Iran-allied militias in the country are fighting to reassert their influence in the country after suffering a setback in national elections in Iraq last year, when they lost ground to other Iranian-led parties. the Shiites. Voters handed the most seats to a bloc led by Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric and self-proclaimed nationalist who has vowed to limit the power of militias.

Mr. Sadr has pledged to form what he calls a majority government, which could exclude some of the paramilitary-affiliated groups. His calls to contain them have driven a wedge among the political leadership of the Shiite Arabs, Iraq’s largest communal group. The militias are also predominantly Shia.

“It’s a way of putting pressure on Sadr and reminding him that there is a risk of violence,” said Lahib Higel, Baghdad-based senior Iraq analyst for International Crisis Group. “What these paramilitary groups are saying is, ‘You’re going to be responsible because you didn’t include everyone in this deal.'”

“We have never seen this type of split in the Shia house before,” she said.

The attacks also come as Iran and the United States enter a critical phase in negotiations over a possible return to the 2015 nuclear deal that imposes limits on Tehran’s atomic activities. This week, Iran imposed sanctions on US officials and the Biden administration said it was ready to walk away from talks, although the two sides continue to negotiate.

While Iran says it is not trying to build nuclear weapons, a review of its key facilities suggests it could develop the technology to make them. The WSJ shatters Tehran’s capabilities as it takes new steps in uranium enrichment and limits access to inspectors. Photographic illustration: George Downs

The attacks began Thursday morning when men on motorbikes threw grenades at the Baghdad office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the dominant Kurdish party in Iraq. The door to the office was smashed and its windows shattered, but the attack caused no casualties, officials said.

That night, rockets targeted the US Embassy compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Security agencies seized nearby rocket launchers after the attack, officials said.

After midnight, gunmen threw hand grenades at the office of the Sunni political bloc Taqadum in northern Baghdad, injuring two security guards, smashing windows and causing other damage, security officials said. Taqadum won the second-largest share of seats in parliament and its leader was re-elected assembly speaker earlier in January in a move opposed by Iran-aligned groups.

A poster depicting Iraqi Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.


Photo:

WISSAM AL-OKAILI/REUTERS

Finally, unidentified assailants raided the Baghdad office of another Sunni politician, Khamis al-Khanjar, causing only material damage to the building, officials said.

After losing ground in last year’s elections, Iran-aligned activists have fought to retain political influence in the country. In November, a drone attack targeted the residence of Iraq’s prime minister and parties affiliated with the militants challenged the election results in court, but their case was dismissed by Iraq’s highest court last month.

In a possible clue to the origins of the attack, one of the largest militia groups, Kataib Hezbollah, said the attack on the US embassy came in response to a top court ruling Iraqi who breathed new life into the protest of the militias against the election results. The militia also condemned the attack and blamed it without evidence on “gangs linked to Britain and the United Arab Emirates”.

Thursday’s court ruling temporarily suspended the authority of the newly elected parliament in response to a lawsuit filed by lawmakers challenging the legitimacy of the parliamentary session and its standing orders. The decision buys time for the hardline group to continue asserting its influence.

Mr Sadr, who is not seeking election himself but wields considerable influence over Iraqi politics, pushed back against the militias in a statement on Twitter, blaming the attack on the US Embassy on “parties that claim to be resistance”.

He said the attacks were aimed at delaying the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The militias say they are fighting for the withdrawal of American troops from the country.

“People should not be deceived by these moves,” he said.

The US Embassy blamed the attack on its compound on “terrorist groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty and international relations”.

Write to Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com

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