BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi survived an assassination attempt Monday evening in Baghdad as multiple explosions and gunfire struck areas in the Iraqi capital, officials said.
“Prime Minister Abadi was inside his car when an explosion happened, followed by heavy gunfire,” said Prime Minister Press Office director Rowsan al-Darazi. “He is safe and sound,” he said, confirming the blast and gun fire.
Abadi was out in downtown Baghdad when a bomb exploded next to his car in the Rashid quarter, a popular restaurant for the prime minister, officials said. Two cars full of gunmen also arrived and opened fire on his vehicle, said another senior government official. Abadi was not hurt and his meeting with Iraqi security chiefs was moved to another location.
Shiite leader Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who’s been under siege since January from Sunni and Kurdish forces, was also reportedly targeted in the car bomb attack.
Security forces later intercepted the attackers’ vehicle, according to government officials.
“It’s always happened,” said Marwan Shehada, head of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce, a major organization, speaking to Fox News’ Ashley Roberts. “The first time I met he was too busy attending a meeting to give me a ride home,” Shehada said.
Iraq has endured deadly attacks since the 2003 US-led invasion, but attacks in recent years have focused on the country’s multi-ethnic and religious communities. In late October, a coordinated strike near a crowded shopping area in Baghdad claimed the lives of at least 329 people. In 2014, the country’s oil-rich Anbar province suffered a wave of deadly attacks aimed at local populations, particularly Sunnis. In September 2015, terrorists dressed as Iraqi soldiers stormed a hospital in Iraq’s western Anbar province, killing at least 40 people and wounded hundreds in a bloody assault.
Two major organizations are, in fact, under siege: the Iraqi Army, which has suffered repeated ISIS setbacks, and the government itself, which finds itself grappling with extremist factions. ISIS’s Peshmerga and Shiite-led groups, has sought to surround the coalition forces near Kirkuk, Iraq’s second-largest city, which has been occupied by the Shia-led government since last summer. ISIS also controls a swathe of land west of the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.
The terror group is also blamed for a recent wave of attacks in Paris, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Many governments have voiced concern that ISIS’s reign of terror is creating a breeding ground for extremism in Middle Eastern countries and that the incubation is being funneled abroad, especially to the West. In mid-January, an ISIS suicide bomber hit a cafe in a U.S. military base in Jordan, killing 18 and wounding more than 50.
In December, Iraq accused Iran of sending some of its Shiite militia fighters into Iraq to join ISIS. Iraq’s parliament speaker Ahmed al-Abadi said he was approached by Iran after ISIS stormed Ramadi, a huge majority Shiite city that was the capital of the ISIS-held province of Anbar until December. He said he was told several hundred Iranian fighters were heading to Ramadi. Iran, which controls militias in Syria who have been active there against ISIS, denied sending fighters to Iraq.
In January, Army spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the coalition has conducted airstrikes that destroyed ISIS vehicles as part of a fight with ISIS to oust the terror group from Iraqi towns and cities, including the capture of Mosul, where Iraqi forces were fighting intense urban warfare in January.
Warren said the U.S. troops overseeing the campaign on the ground have been operating in remote locations, leaving the American role at a distance from the fighting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.