Free food is prepared for protesters during the ongoing anti-government protests next to a poster of Muqtada al-Sadr whose image is centered between the image of his father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, right, and Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, left, in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. (Photo: AP)
Former communications minister Mohammed Allawi was named prime minister-designate by rival Iraqi factions Saturday after weeks of political deadlock, three officials said.
The choice comes as the country weathers troubled times including ongoing anti-government protests and the constant threat of being ensnared by festering US-Iran tensions.
The selection of Allawi, 66, to replace outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi was the product of many back-room talks over months between rival parties.
On Wednesday, President Barham Saleh gave parliamentary blocs until Feb. 1 to select a premier candidate, or said he would exercise his constitutional powers and choose one himself.
In a pre-recorded statement posted online, Allawi called on protesters to continue with their uprising against corruption and said he would quit if the blocs insist on imposing names of ministers.
“If it wasn’t for your sacrifices and courage there wouldn’t have been any change in the country,” he said addressing anti-government protesters. “I have faith in you and ask you to continue with the protests.”
Allawi was born in Baghdad and served as communications minister first in 2006 and again between 2010-2012. He resigned from his post after a dispute with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Parliament is expected to put his candidacy to a vote in the next session, after which point he has 30 days to formulate a government program and select a cabinet of ministers.
According to the constitution, a replacement for Abdul-Mahdi should have been identified 15 days after his resignation in early December. Instead, it has taken rival blocs nearly two months of jockeying to select Allawi as their consensus candidate.
Abdul-Mahdi’s rise to power was the product of a provisional alliance between parliament’s two main blocs — Sairoon, led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, which includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units headed by Hadi al-Amiri.
In the May 2018 election, neither coalition won a commanding plurality, which would have enabled it to name the premier, as stipulated by the Iraqi constitution. To avoid political crisis, Sairoon and Fatah forged a precarious union with Abdul-Mahdi as their prime minister.
Until Allawi’s selection, al-Sadr had rejected the candidates put forward largely by Fatah, officials and analysts said. Sairoon appears to have agreed to his candidacy following a tumultuous two week after the radical cleric held an anti-US rally attended by tens of thousands and withdrew support for Iraq’s mass anti-government protest movement, only to reverse the decision later.
“Sairoon has approved and Fatah has approved,” a senior Iraqi official said.
If elected by parliament, Allawi will have to contend with navigating Iraq through brewing regional tensions between Tehran and Washington. Tensions skyrocketed after a US drone strike near Baghdad’s airport killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The tumultuous event brought Iraq close to the brink of war and officials scrambling to contain the fallout.
The presence of US troops on Iraqi soil has become the focus of Iraqi politics in the wake of the strike. Parliament passed a non-binding resolution for their ouster and Abdul-Mahdi had openly supported withdrawal.
Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation was precipitated by ongoing mass protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Protesters are calling for new executive leadership, snap elections and electoral reforms. They have said they would not accept a candidate chosen by the political establishment.