Newly appointed Prime Minister Tawfiq Allawi appealed to Iraqis for their support hours after his appointment by President Barham Salih on Saturday, February 01.
However, protesters were unhappy with his appointment and are already rejecting the new head of government as a stooge of the political elite.
In Baghdad and southern cities, demonstrators who have camped out for months demanding the removal of Iraq’s ruling class chanted “we reject Allawi” and held posters of his face with a red cross through it.
President Salih appointed Allawi after contentious negotiations between lawmakers from rival parties had failed for two months to decide on a successor to Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned in November during mass unrest.
Allawi has one month to form a government and will lead it until early elections are held, for which there is no date set.
Allawi in a formal address to the nation on state television late on Saturday pledged to build a “state of freedom and justice” and to work to meet protesters’ demands for jobs and services and an end to crippling and widespread corruption especially by foreign-backed political and militia groups.
“I pledge to protect peaceful protesters and release innocent prisoners… told hold early elections… and protect Iraq from all foreign interference,” he said.
He said the election would be monitored by international observers but did not elaborate.
Soon after Allawi was appointed, protesters gathered in Baghdad and southern cities in opposition, including at Tahrir Square, the centre of the uprising in the Iraqi capital.
For the demonstrators, Allawi, the former communications minister under ex-premier Nuri al-Maliki – who presided over the fall of multiple Iraqi cities to Islamic State in 2014 and is accused of pro-Shi’ite sectarian policies – is part of the ruling elite and therefore unacceptable.
Hours before Allawi’s appointment, supporters of populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attacked protesters in Tahrir square.
The Dawa party, meanwhile, rejected Allawi’s premiership, saying in a statement that any candidate being decided at this stage was unlikely to have unanimous support.
Iraq is facing its biggest crisis since the military defeat of ISIS in 2017. A mostly Shi’ite popular uprising in Baghdad and the south challenges the country’s mainly Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim ruling elite.
The country has been thrown into further disarray since the killing of Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Jan 3. Iran responded with missile attacks on bases hosting US forces, pushing the region to the brink of an all-out conflict.
Pro-Iran politicians have tried to use those events to shift the focus away from popular discontent with their grip on power and towards anti-American rallies and demands for the withdrawal of US troops. (Source: The Straits Times)