Iraqi blocs select new PM-designate after weeks of jockeying
BAGHDAD >> Former communications minister Mohammed Allawi was named prime ministerdesignate by rival Iraqi factions Saturday after weeks of political deadlock.
The choice comes as the country weathers troubled times, including ongoing anti-government protests and the constant threat of being ensnared by festering U.S.-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.
In Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Iraq’s fourmonth anti-government protest movement, demonstrators rejected Allawi’s candidacy. Demonstrators, who have long said they would not accept a candidate chosen by the establishment, erected portraits of the new premierdesignate crossed with an “X.” Some chanted “Allawi out!”
But many feared they would clash with followers of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who recently reversed a decision to withdraw support from the protest movement. Officials and analysts said that move was to gain leverage on the street as a deadline to select a new premier drew near.
At least three activists said followers of al-Sadr had attacked demonstrators in Tahrir. Some protesters and others were fearful.
“The square doesn’t want him, but the problem is since Muqtada has sided with (the elites), the square cannot refuse him,” said activist Kamal Jaban. “Otherwise there will be bloodshed.”
Al-Sadr’s followers returned in the hundreds on Friday night, three witnesses said, bringing tents and supplies and re-occupying a strategic high-rise overlooking the square known as the Turkish Restaurant, as well as the Jumhuriya Bridge, which leads to the Green Zone.
Al-Sadr issued a statement saying Allawi’s selection was “the wish of the people,” and asked protesters to carry on with the anti-government demonstrations.
If elected by parliament, Allawi will have to contend with navigating Iraq through regional confrontations between Tehran and Washington.
Iraqi President Barham Salih, right, instructs newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammed Allawi in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday.