US steps up intrusion as Iraq’s new PM seeks to form govt.

Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been trying to set up a new cabinet amid public calls for social welfare and the withdrawal of US occupation forces from the country.

Kadhimi, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service, met with top members of the outgoing government on Saturday in a bid to put together his cabinet and bring an end to a long-lasting power vacuum.

On Thursday, President Barham Salih named Kadhimi, who enjoys support from the country’s political establishment, as prime minister-designate and tasked him with forming a new government in a month.

He was the third person tapped for the job in just 10 weeks after former nominee Adnan al-Zurfi withdrew his bid.

The new Iraqi prime minister-designate is facing several challenges, among them calls for economic reforms along with a meaningful fight against corruption in state institutions and the nation’s frustration with the US military presence in Iraq.

Earlier this week, US officials told the Associated Press that Patriot missile launchers and two other short-range systems were in place at Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s Anbar Province and at the military facility in Kurdistan’s regional capital, Erbil.

They further noted that a short-range rocket system had been installed at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad.

The US military build-up not only violates Iraq’s sovereignty but also poses a threat to the country’s armed forces and defies an Iraqi parliament vote on January 5 that called for an end to the presence of all foreign troops.

The vote came two days after the US assassination of General Soleimani in Iraq, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) or Hashd al-Sha’abi, and eight other Iranian and Iraqi people.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently proposed that Washington and Baghdad “hold strategic dialogue in June” to discuss the presence of American forces in Iraq.

Speaking on Friday, Kadhimi stressed that Iraq’s sovereignty was a “red line” and that he would not be flexible about it.

On Saturday, some Iraqi sources said Pentagon chief Mark Esper and Vice President Mike Pence had visited Ain al-Asad airbase, where they held talks with the Iraqi president.

However, an official close to Salih told Al Mayadeen TV channel that he had held no meeting with foreign or American officials during his trip to Anbar Province.

The latest developments came months after Iraq witnessed violent protests against unemployment and a lack of basic services. The anti-regime demonstrations led to the resignation of prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Kadhimi is “a tough and smart fellow,” and as a veteran intelligence agency chief “likely has files on every one of note and could call on those files to pressure people to toe the line,” said Dr. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the US National Defense University.

“[But] trying to create a peaceful and stable Iraq may be one of the toughest jobs out there. If the economy and jobs don’s turn around, even the toughest people cannot keep [the country] together for long.”

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