Baghdad (AFP) -
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi escaped unhurt from an 'assassination attempt' in which an explosives-packed drone hit his Baghdad residence early Sunday, a new escalation in the country's post-election turmoil.
Washington condemned the 'apparent act of terrorism' while Iraqi President Barham Saleh called the attack, which was not immediately claimed by any group, an attempted 'coup against the constitutional system'.
Kadhemi, aged 54 and in power since May 2020, appealed for 'calm and restraint' before chairing a meeting at his office in the high-security Baghdad Green Zone, where the overnight attack took place.
Three drones were launched from near a Tigris River bridge but two were intercepted, according to security sources, who said two bodyguards were wounded.
Gunfire rang out and smoke rose from the Green Zone after the strike, which the premier's office labelled a 'failed assassination attempt'.
Photos issued by Kadhemi's office showed debris strewn on the ground below a damaged exterior stairway and a door that had been dislodged.
Kadhemi said in a short video that 'my residence has been the target of a cowardly assault. Praise God, I am fine.'
The attack came two days after security forces clashed with supporters of Iran-backed parties that lost support in the October 10 parliament election and who have charged they were the victims of vote irregularities.
The Conquest (Fatah) Alliance, the political arm of the pro-Iran Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, suffered a substantial decline in seats, leading it to denounce the outcome as 'fraud'.
After the drone attack, Qais al-Khazali, the head of Assaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the main pro-Iran groups of the Hashed, called for the perpetrators to be 'brought to justice'.
- 'Heart of state' -
The United States, which has around 2,500 troops in the country, said it was 'relieved to learn the Prime Minister was unharmed'.
'This apparent act of terrorism, which we strongly condemn, was directed at the heart of the Iraqi state,' State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Iran condemned the attack and urged 'vigilance to foil plots aimed at the security and development' of Iraq.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh directed blame at the United States, which led the 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and kicked off years of sectarian conflict.
'Such incidents are in the interest of those who have violated the stability, security, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq over the past 18 years,' said Khatibzadeh.
'They have sought to achieve their sinister regional goals by creating terrorist groups that seek to cause sedition.'
President Saleh said Iraq must not 'be dragged into chaos and a coup against the constitutional system'.
The attack was also condemned by the Arab League, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and United Arab Emirates as well as the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.
Moqtada Sadr, an influential Shiite Muslim preacher whose political movement was the big election winner, condemned the drone attack as 'against Iraq and the Iraqi people'.
- Mounting tensions -
The strike came amid soaring tensions over the elections, the fifth such vote since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Hundreds of Hashed supporters clashed with police on Friday while protesting near the Green Zone to vent their fury over the preliminary result.
One protester died of injuries in hospital, according to a security source, while a Hashed source said two demonstrators were killed.
Several hundred supporters of pro-Iranian groups returned to the edge of the Green Zone on Saturday to protest, and some burned a portrait of the prime minister, whom they called a 'criminal'.
Final election results are only expected in a few weeks.
Kadhemi brought forward the ballot, originally planned for next year, in a concession to anti-government protests over endemic corruption, unemployment, failing public services and the influence of Iran.
Activists accuse the Hashed's armed forces -- whose 160,000 fighters are now integrated into Iraq's state security forces -- of being beholden to Iran and acting as an instrument of oppression against critics.
Other drone attacks in Iraq have occurred over the last few months, particularly against American interests.