Mohammed Allawi: can new PM save Iraq from crisis?
Nationwide protests intensify as activists call for overhaul of government following controversial appointment
Hundreds of activists have returned to the streets of cities across Iraq to protest against the nomination of former communications minister Mohammed Allawi as the country’s new prime minister.
Allawi was named by President Barham Salih this weekend as the replacement for caretaker PM Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned at the end of November amid violent anti-government demonstrations.
Following weeks of political paralysis, Saleh had given Iran’s political factions until Saturday to nominate a new national leader, “sending them into crisis talks that produced a consensus on Allawi”, reports The Guardian.
But while Allawi has pledged to meet the protesters’ demands for widespread political reforms and a crackdown on corruption, many remain convinced.
What is happening in Iraq?
The Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the Shia-dominated southern provinces have been gripped by “four months of anti-government rallies demanding snap elections, a politically independent prime minister and accountability for corruption and protest-related violence”, says London-based news site Middle East Eye.
More than 480 people have died and nearly 30,000 have been wounded in clashes between security forces and anti-government activists since the start of October. The unrest began after then PM Mahdi demoted Iraq’s popular counter-terrorism chief, according to the BBC.
But while Mahdi subsequently resigned, demonstrators are demanding “a complete overhaul of the country’s political system introduced after the US invasion of 2003”, Al Jazeera reports.
Following weeks of fruitless debate to select a new PM, President Salih told Iraq’s heavily divided parliament that if they could not agree on a candidate by 1 February, he would make the decision.
The parliament chose 65-year-old Allawi, who served as communications minister under former PM Nouri al-Maliki before resigning in 2012 over alleged government corruption and interference in his department.
Can Allawi make a difference?
Allawi has been given a month to form a government, which must be approved by parliament. He is tasked with running the country until an early election is held, with no date for the vote set as yet.
After being named as the new PM, Allawi immediately posted a video on Twitter expressing his support for the protesters, saying: “I will ask you to keep up the protests, because if you are not with me, I won’t be able to do anything.”
In a subsequent televised address on state television, he said: “This nomination places a huge, historic responsibility on my shoulders.”
But many protesters accuse Allawi of belonging to the same political establishment that has failed them. Within minutes of his appointment being announced, hundreds gathered in the capital’s Tahrir Square, chanting “Mohammed Allawi, rejected”.
Protesters also flooded the streets of other cities including Diwaniyah, where one activist, lawyer Hassan Mayahi, told The Guardian: “Allawi’s nomination came with the approval of the same corrupt political blocs we’ve been protesting against for over four months.”
However, Allawi is being backed by influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament, who has called for the protesters to clear the roads and resume “day-to-day life”.
“This is a good step,” Sadr tweeted, adding: “I hope the president’s appointment of Mohammed Allawi is acceptable to the people and that they have patience.”