Iraq’s new prime minister is more of the same

The Iraqi people are too noble and proud to allow themselves to be made fools of and Baghdad’s politicians should take heed of that.
Sunday 09/02/2020
Protesters chant slogans while holding a poster of newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammed Allawi with Arabic that reads, “Rejected by the people,” during a demonstration in Najaf, February 6. (AP)
Unyielding. Protesters chant slogans while holding a poster of newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammed Allawi with Arabic that reads, “Rejected by the people,” during a demonstration in Najaf, February 6. (AP)

After the agreement between the major parliamentary blocs, Iraqi President Barham Salih appointed Mohammed Allawi as prime minister-designate, moving forward with a candidate to replace former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi who was effectively forced to resign because of his violent mishandling of the protest movement that has rocked Iraq since last October.

Salih charged Allawi with forming a new cabinet within a month and Allawi promised a government staffed with ministers who are competent and not compromised by their political connections.

While all of this sounds promising to outsiders unfamiliar with Iraqi political affairs, the protesters made it abundantly clear they are not interested in buying whatever Allawi has to sell.

Within minutes of the announcement of his appointment February 1, demonstrators filled the streets of Baghdad, chanting “Allawi is rejected! Allawi is rejected!” This gave a clear picture that the new PM-designate is viewed no differently than the rest of the political class, despite his entreaties to the protesters to keep up their demonstrations “because if you are not with me, I [Allawi] won’t be able to do anything.”

The fact that Allawi had to admit to being powerless to make substantive changes without massive pressure external to Baghdad’s halls of power vindicated the protesters’ position that he is an unsuitable candidate.

Allawi very much embodies the “new order” class of Iraqi political elites that emerged following the US-led invasion that toppled decades of Ba’athist rule in 2003.

Allawi, a 65-year-old Shia Arab, began his political career in the aftermath of the US-led invasion and twice served as communications minister under Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He resigned both times, alleging corruption and interference in personnel appointments in his ministry.

If he knew Maliki was corrupt the first time, the question remains why he agreed to work for him again. After all, it is not as though Maliki, who ruled Iraq for eight years in an orgy of sectarian bloodlust, made any attempt at showing he was reformed.

Indeed, and despite his apparently principled stance in vacating his post due to corruption, Allawi was oddly silent when Iraqi protesters were being mauled by the thousands during Iraq’s first significant protest movement, which began in 2012 and lasted until Maliki killed protesters in 2013, opening the floodgates for Islamic State terrorists to burn one-third of the country. In the present day, about 500 protesters have died, yet Allawi is unashamedly asking them to stay in the street to die for his sake.

Iraqi politicians need to start respecting the intelligence of their constituents. They are willing to die but for freedom not an establishment figure like Allawi who showed a disregard for the rights and lives of demonstrators in previous years.

Further, it will not escape their attention that he is the cousin of Iraq’s first post-invasion prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who was a pillar of the corrupt system that is now in place and that has reduced the lives of Iraqis to a pitiful tragedy of sectarianism, a lack of economic opportunity and rampant and untameable corruption. With such a family pedigree, and with flip-flopping radical and violent clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr putting his weight behind Allawi, is it any wonder protesters rejected him?

Allawi, al-Sadr and Iraq’s elite have no shame and no regard for the protesters. They simply see them as tools in their quest for power. As long as this remains the same, normal Iraqis will have no choice but to press on in their principled fight for change or else risk being under the boot of the corrupt for another 17 years.

The Iraqi people are too noble and proud to allow themselves to be made fools of and Baghdad’s politicians should take heed of that.

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