Iraq needs an independent government, says senior US diplomat

Iraq’s US-aligned prime minister-designate is in political trouble

In this photo released by Lebanon's official government photographer Dalati Nohra, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, at the presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. The leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah, said Schenker visiting Beirut to mediate between Lebanon and Israel over a maritime border dispute is a "friend of Israel." Nasrallah urged Lebanese officials to negotiate from a point of strength. (Dalati Nohra via AP)
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The US is urging that “a credible government” be formed in Iraq, a senior US diplomat said on Wednesday, as pro-Iranian players threaten to remove a prime minister-designate close to Washington.

Assistant State Department secretary David Schenker told Al Arabiya Television that the next government in Baghdad should observe “the interest of Iraq as far as bilateral issues and respond to the demands and needs of the Iraqi people".

Mr Schenker oversees the Near East section at the State Department.

On April 9, Mustafa Al Kadhimi, an intelligence chief supported by the US, became the third person in 10 weeks named to form a government, after pro-Iranian groups brought down his two predecessors.

The power brokers reversed their initial position of no-objection to Mr Al Kadhimi’s appointment, saying he was changing agreed rules and was too close to Washington.

He said this week that there were serious difficulties in forming a Cabinet, but he would not bow to political pressure that was undermining the national interest.

Mr Al Kadhimi has been key in countering Iranian influence in Iraq, but Mr Schenker rejected that Iraq was a battleground between Washington and Tehran.

“I do not think this is the correct way to describe our relationship with Iraq,” he said.

Mr Schenker said the US had sent significant aid to Iraq and gave it sanctions waivers, allowing Baghdad to buy electricity from Iran.

He said Iran had “another approach”, based on sending military enforcers to “tell Iraqis what to do”.

Mr Schenker said the US did not want Iraq “to be a vassal to Iran”, and neither did “the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who want Iraq to be sovereign”.

On Yemen, he said the priority should be a peace deal after the unilateral truce by the Saudi-led Coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Meanwhile, the secessionist Southern Transitional Council declared a plan for self-rule in southern Yemen at the weekend, but Mr Schenker said now was not the time to address separatist aspirations, although the group “has a role to play”.

And Lebanon's government, he said, had to prove it could carry out reforms demanded by international donors before it could access $11 billion (Dh40.4bn) in support they had pledged.

An accelerating financial meltdown revived a protest movement this week that dropped its code of non-violence.

Several banks have been attacked, burnt and bombed in the recent days and clashes with the police are now common.

A protester was shot by authorities during a protest in the northern city of Tripoli and buried on Tuesday.

Mr Schenker said Beirut would have to make “very difficult decisions to terminate the deep-rooted corruption regime in Lebanon”.

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