Rival Iraqi factions said to have settled on Mohammed Allawi as new prime minister

Antigovernment protesters camp in Tahrir Square in Baghdad.
(Khalid Mohammed / Associated Press)

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 grapples with violent antigovernment protests and the constant threat of being ensnared by festering U.S.-Iran tensions.

The selection of Allawi, 66, to replace Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, was the product of many backroom talks over months between rival parties.


On Wednesday, President Barham Salih gave parliamentary blocs until Feb. 1 to select a premier candidate or he would exercise his constitutional powers and choose one himself.

In a prerecorded 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 antigovernment 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 and 2012. He resigned after a dispute with former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Parliament is expected to put his candidacy to a vote in the next session, after which point he has 30 days to form a government 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 Sadr, and Fatah, which includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units headed by Hadi Ameri.

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, Sadr had rejected the candidates put forward largely by Fatah, officials and analysts said. Sairoon appears to have agreed to Allawi’s candidacy following a tumultuous two weeks after the radical cleric held an anti-U.S. rally attended by tens of thousands and withdrew support for Iraq’s mass antigovernment 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 U.S. drone strike near Baghdad’s airport killed top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Muhandis. The tumultuous event brought Iraq close to the brink of war and officials scrambling to contain the fallout.

The presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil has become the focus of Iraqi politics in the wake of the strike. Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution for their ouster and Abdul Mahdi has openly supported withdrawal.

Abdul Mahdi’s resignation was precipitated by ongoing mass protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Protesters are calling for new leadership, snap elections and electoral reforms. They have said they would not accept a candidate chosen by the political establishment.