- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says leaders in Iraq should get rid of their country’s sectarian quota system in order to facilitate a much-needed end to a political crisis that’s been gripping Baghdad for months.

Speaking at a press conference at State Department headquarters in Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration is “watching closely” as Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Kadhami attempts for a third week to form a government in the Iraqi capital.

In early April, Mr. Kadhami — previously Iraq’s intelligence chief — was named the country’s third prime minister-designate in just 10 weeks amid a political meltdown that has gripped Baghdad since protests toppled the government there late last year.

The struggle to form a new government comes amid soaring tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which shares a long border with Iraq, as both Washington and Tehran vie for influence in Baghdad.

Mr. Pompeo suggested concerns are high in the Trump administration that Iran is attempting to manipulate the situation. “The Iraqi people need and deserve a government that frees the country from external intimidation, puts the prosperity of the Iraqi people first, and tackles the major challenges that continue to face Iraq,” he said.

The secretary of state added that “Iraqi leaders must put aside the sectarian quota system and make compromises that lead to government formation for the good of the Iraqi people, and for the partnership between the United States and Iraq.”

Washington has previously been blamed for introducing the system in Baghdad following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to ensure equal representation of Shia and Sunni Muslims and Kurds in the Iraqi government. Some analysts have argued it promotes sectarian divisions because it motivates political parties to mobilize people behind ethnic and sectarian causes.

With that as a backdrop, Mr. Pompeo on Wednesday suggested the Trump administration is eager for whatever government gets formed in Baghdad to work toward curtailing the freedom currently enjoyed by Iran-backed militant groups inside Iraq. “The Iraqi government,” he said, “must heed the call from many elements of Iraqi society to bring all armed groups under state control.”

“We welcome steps that have been taken in the past days in that direction,” Mr. Pompeo added, without elaborating.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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