Iraq Names New Prime Minister Who Praises ‘Bravery’ of Protesters

Iraq Names New Prime Minister Who Praises ‘Bravery’ of Protesters


BAGHDAD — Iraq’s president stepped in to appoint a new prime minister after the Parliament failed to do so for two months, leaving the country largely rudderless at a time of multiple political crises.

The premier, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, is hardly a new face — he is a former member of Parliament and former minister of communications. But he is not tarnished by the corruption allegations that dog many other Iraqi political figures.

In his first comments upon accepting the nomination, Mr. Allawi paid homage to the anti-government protesters who have been out on the streets since October and he promised to keep their demands front and center in his political program.

“I want to speak to the Iraqi people directly,” he said in a video. “I have decided to speak with you before speaking with anybody else because my power comes from you and without your sacrifices and bravery, there would have been no change in the country.”

Iraq has been sinking deeper into crisis since protests began that challenged the political order and then became increasingly violent. The previous prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned but remained in a caretaker role increasingly unable to cope either with the uprising in the streets or with rising tension between the United States and Iran — both of which compete for influence in Iraq.

Those tensions came to a head with the American killing of both Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and of the leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units — a Shiite militia force closely tied to Iran — who was with him. In response, the Iraqi Parliament demanded the departure of all American troops from Iraq.

It is unclear whether the appointment of a new prime minister will calm the country or whether political parties and armed groups, many with ties to Iran, will continue to dominate the political scene.

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Credit…Prashant Rao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The protests, which are demanding an end to corruption and more jobs, have only grown despite a violent crackdown by the Iraqi security forces. They began with demands for the resignation of the government and for new elections.

The Parliament largely avoided responding because reforms and new elections would likely mean that many established political groups would lose power. The country’s senior religious authorities have largely sided with the protesters in demanding change and their pressure led the prime minister to resign at the end of November.

Since then, neither the Parliament and the president struggled to find a prime minister candidate on which the Parliament and the protesters could agree.

The selection of Mr. Allawi is an effort to pick someone who has worked with a wide range of political parties and who is educated and secular as well as having the requisite Shiite Muslim background.

Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has had a political power sharing agreement whereby the prime minister comes from the country’s Shiite Muslim majority, the speaker of the parliament is from the Sunni Muslim minority and the president is of Kurdish ethnicity so that all three main ethnic and religious groups are represented.

Mr. Allawi was educated initially in Baghdad but then went to Beirut to completely his studies in architecture. He lived for years in London and was active in the Iraqi opposition. As a young man, he was drawn to the Dawa party which is close to Iran.

But after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, he began to align himself with his cousin, Iyad Allawi, who was the interim prime minister in 2004, and eventually joined Iraqiya, his cousin’s political party. It is a secular party that includes Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as Christians and a number of women, but it has few seats in the Parliament compared to the religious parties.

Within minutes of his nomination, he got an endorsement from the powerful Shiite cleric and political leader Moktada al-Sadr, who controls the largest bloc in Parliament.

“Today will be remembered in the history of Iraq that the people chose their prime minister and not the political blocs,” Mr. Sadr tweeted on Saturday night.

“Today we hope from our brother, Mohammed Allawi, not to give into foreign and internal pressures and to announce his program and accelerate the holding of early elections and to endeavor to preserve the sovereignty of Iraq,” Mr. Sadr said.

Political analysts were more circumspect. They said Mr. Allawi, much like the current prime minister, lacks a political base and would find it difficult to withstand pressure from the Iraqi armed groups that are close to Iran, many of them part of the Popular Mobilization Units, a force nominally under the control of the Iraqi government.

“Yes, he is from a respected family, he is educated, but he is weak politically,” said Wafiq al- Hashimi, director of the Iraq Group for Strategic Studies, a think tank.

In Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests in the capital Baghdad, the reactions were mixed. Some said he was in the past government and so was not suitable. Others said they were open to anyone who could improve the situation.

I don’t know Mohammed Allawi well so I cannot give an opinion about him,” said Jawad Hussein, 40, a construction worker who was in Tahrir Square protesting on Saturday. “I can only judge him or give my opinion after hearing his plan and program and understanding what will he do for the country.”

In what appeared to be a gesture of respect for the protesters’ efforts, Mr. Allawi said: “You have tolerated a lot and were patient for a long time, but I believe in you and therefore I will ask from you to continue with the demonstrations because if you are not with me, then I will be alone and not able to do anything.”

He added that he would look to the protesters to keep him honest.

“If the blocs attempt to impose their candidates on me, then I will tell you,” he said.

Mr. Allawi will have 30 days to form a new government.

Falih Hassan contributed from Baghdad.



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