Pro-Iranian Militias Use UAVs In Attempted Assassination Of Iraqi Prime Minister

(New York, N.Y.) — Iraqi officials have alleged that Sunday’s attempted assassination of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi with armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, were carried out by pro-Iran militias that dispute the country’s recent election. One week prior to the assassination attempt, the U.S. Treasury Department designated two high-ranking members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization – and two IRGC-affiliated companies for provisioning drones to militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Ethiopia.

Over the course of former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s first term, which overlapped with the negotiation and signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran increased its military budget by 145 percent. The availability of tens of billions of dollars freed up through sanctions relief aided the growth of Iran’s drone arsenal in size and sophistication. An interagency working group led by the U.S. has been formed to develop strategies to mitigate the threat. 

Iran has focused heavily on the development of UAVs because it gives the regime an additional means of lethal power projection outside its borders that are extremely costly to defend against. Today, drones manufactured and supplied by Iran to regional militias are used to attack civilians and U.S. military personnel, disrupt global commerce, and destroy infrastructure. Supplying drones to its terrorist proxies provide those non-state actors with an instant air force and the Iranian regime as a force multiplier for a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons. Further, the use of proxy forces offers Tehran a degree of plausible deniability as to their culpability. 

The Iranian regime has denied responsibility for the attack on al-Kadhimi. Even if Tehran did not directly order the assassination attempt, such an attack would not have been possible without the IRGC’s efforts to equip and train its proxy militias with the latest Iranian advancements in lethal drone technologies. The U.S. and its Iraqi and regional partners must work collaboratively to hold Iran responsible for its destabilizing activities in Iraq and to counter the growing threat to regional security posed by drones in the hands of Iran and its proxies.  

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