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Mohammed Tawfik Allawi

Iraq's prime minister-designate Mohammed Tawfik Allawi announced his withdrawal from the post 01 March 2020 after failing to secure parliamentary support for his Cabinet selection. His move came hours after parliament failed for the second time in a week to approve his cabinet amid political infighting in the oil producer, where mass protests and deadlock between lawmakers are delaying Iraq's recovery from years of war. Allawi's appointment was meant to ease a crisis as the Shia-led country faces a mass protest movement that broke out in October and brought down Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Allawi’s Cabinet selection was heavily influenced by renegade Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, who has gained from the general chaos in Iraq after the United States killed a senior Iranian commander in Baghdad in January. Sadr said in a statement he supported Allawi for his decision to withdraw his candidacy and criticised the parties who obstructed him. Sunni and Kurdish political groups that stood to lose portfolios in a Cabinet of ostensible independents have vehemently opposed Allawi’s choices.

Iraq’s president named former communications minister Mohammad Allawi as the country’s new prime minister on Saturday after an 11th-hour consensus among political blocs, but the streets seemed divided on his nomination. There was an agreement between the largest parties in Parliament to nominate Allawi. Abdul Mahdi's rise to power was the product of a provisional alliance between parliament's two main blocs - Sairoon, led by al-Sadr, and Fatah, which is headed by Hadi al-Amiri and includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hasdh al-Shaabi). Now observers expected a lot of negotiation around cabinet formation and this will be a test to see how much independence Allawi has and how much support for his nominees to the cabinet he can get from the parties in Parliament.

The United States issued a carefully worded statement, saying it hoped Allawi’s nomination would lead to “an independent and honest government committed to addressing the needs of the Iraqi people.”Despite ex-prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi formally resigning on November 30, he agreed to continue in a caretaker capacity until a successor was chosen, with the resulting deadlock leading demonstrators to accuse the establishment of deliberate stalling. According to the constitution, a replacement for Abdul Mahdi should have been identified 15 days after his resignation. Instead, it had taken rival blocs more than two months of jockeying to select Allawi as their consensus candidate. Maliki, who still holds sway in Iraq’s parliament, is said to have rejected Allawi’s candidacy but other political blocs came to a consensus amid pressure by the president. Sadr, too, had renewed his push for an end to the political crisis after suspending his support for the rallies for one week.

Allawi, a 65 year old Shiite Muslim, was born in Karrada, a mixed middle class district of Baghdad, populated by Muslims and Christians, in July 1954. He studied civil engineering at Baghdad University but was forced to drop out in 1977, due to his political activism against then-president Ahmad Hasan Al Bakr. He moved to Lebanon, joining the American University of Beirut (AUB) from where he graduated in 1980. Returning to Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war he joined Al Dawa, an all Shiite Islamic party working in the underground, influenced by one of its chief ideologies Mohammad Baker Al Sadr, who was executed by Saddam in April 1980. Allawi founded a factory for the manufacturing of concrete and marble, which was seized by Saddam due to Allawi’s political affiliation. He fled again, this time to the UK, establishing a company for the sale of compact discs (CDs), which were in high demand in the 1990s, making him a small fortune.

He was never on Iranian payroll and never lived in Tehran. He joined the Iraqi opposition in exile, returning to Baghdad after the fall of Saddam in 2003. By then he had discarded his previous affiliation with political Islam, joining parliament on a secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc ticket, headed by his cousin, prime minister Ayad Allawi. Allawi served as a communications minister under the government of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, first in 2006-2007 and again in 2010-2012. He served as communications minister twice under former PM Nuri al-Maliki but resigned both times, alleging corruption and "political interference" in personnel appointments. Iraq is considered among the top 20 most corrupt in the world by Transparency International.

Moments after his appointment was announced, Allawi shared a pre-recorded video on his Twitter page, where he addressed the protesters directly. “After the president appointed me to form a new government a short while ago, I wanted to talk to you first,” he said, addressing the camera in colloquial Iraqi dialect. "My power is derived from you," he began. "If it were not for your courage and sacrifices then there would have been no changes in the country." He added "You protested for your homeland, and if I am not able to fulfill your demands that I am unworthy of this position." “I will ask you to keep up the protests, because if you are not with me, I won’t be able to do anything,” Allawi said.

However, protesters in the capital reacted with dismay, saying that he represented the old ruling elite. The general feeling from most protest sites is that they view Allawi as being cut from the same cloth as the politicians in power. Protesters who rejected Allawi's nomination believe he will be beholden to the same political system they accuse of corruption and are protesting against.

Anti-government protesters in Iraq were quick to dismiss President Barham Salih's appointment of Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as prime minister-designate, as rallies took place in the capital, Baghdad, and cities in the country's southern provinces. The president's move to end more than two months of political deadlock came after he issued an ultimatum to Iraq's fractious parliament, warning that if they did not appoint a new prime minister he would do so himself.

But Salih's announcemnet was not welcomed by the protesters who have camped out for months calling for an overhaul of Iraq's political system, with hundreds in the capital's Tahrir Square chanting "Mohammed Allawi, rejected!", according to videos posted on social media. In the southern city of Nasiriyah, demonstrators issued a statement saying they categorically rejected Allawi's selection. "He is the compromised candidate that belongs to the sectarian power sharing political system (muhasasa) we are protesting against, and does not represent the aspirations of the protest sites," the statement said. "Based on this, our response will be to escalate things stronger than on previous occasions." Allawi's appointment, the statement continued, was brought about "by the same criminal, corrupt class that brought us to where we are now".

Since October, the leaderless anti-government protest movement has demanded the removal of the country's ruling political elite and an end to corruption. The protesters' demands include the appointment of a politically independent figure as prime minister, early elections, and holding accountable those who had killed at least 500 protesters so far.

According to the constitution, he had one month to form a cabinet which would need a vote of confidence from parliament. In Iraq, the cabinet is typically formed by consensus among political rivals after intense horsetrading over influential posts. The country’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged Iraq’s political parties to “accelerate the formation of a new government”. In his sermon, which also demanded an end to bloodshed, he said “It is imperative to speed up holding early elections so that the people will have their say”.

Ensuring the cabinet's independence may prove a challenge, said Sajad Jiyad of the Iraq-based think tank the Bayan Center. "If we've learned anything from the previous PM, it's that this is the most difficult part: pushing back against the political blocs' demands," Jiyad said. In Iraq, cabinets are typically formed after complex horsetrading whereby parties demand lucrative ministerial posts based on their share of parliament. If Allawi fails to resist ministerial candidates proposed by parties, "it will back up what protesters are saying" about his allegiance to the factions, Jiyad added.

Mohammad Allawi, failed to form a cabinet by 02 March 2020, triggering a new 15-day deadline for President Barham Saleh to find another candidate to serve as Prime Minister.

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Page last modified: 27-08-2021 14:30:28 ZULU