Iraqi president Barham Salih names Mohammed Allawi as new prime minister

Former communications minister promises to stand by protesters seeking political change

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Iraq's president on Saturday appointed Mohammed Allawi as new prime minister, ending more than two months of political deadlock as parties failed to agree on a candidate.

Mr Allawi immediately released a video message on Twitter in which he voiced support for anti-government who forced the resignation of his predecessor and have staged demonstrations since October despite crackdowns that killed hundreds.

“Without your courage and sacrifice no change would have happened in the country," Mr Allawi said.

“I believe in you. Therefore I will be asking you to keep up the demonstrations ... don't go back before you get what you want. Demonstrate, chant, protest. This is your right. This is your country," he said.

“Our duty is to protect you. The weapons of the state must be employed against those who employ weapons against you.”

President Barham Salih's decision to name Mr Allawi as prime minister came as the deadline he set political parties to nominate a candidate was about to expire.

Mr Allawi, whose nomination and choice of cabinet must be approved by parliament, said he would resist any attempt by political parties to impose ministerial candidates on him.

He said his immediate goals were a new elections law and fresh elections, as well as fixing the economy and restoring the prestige of the state security forces.

Mr Allawi, a former communications minister, will have one month to form a new government. Former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in November amid mass protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq to demand the removal of the country's political elite. Nearly 500 protesters have been killed.

However, protesters rejected Mr Allawi as prime minister when his name was floated as a possible candidate after President Salih issued his three-day deadline to political parties on Wednesday.

The protesters, who accuse Iraq's current politicians of corruption and failing to meet their basic needs, want a complete change in the country's leadership and political system, starting with a new election system.

An architect by training, Mr Allawi, 66, was born in Baghdad and served as communications minister first in 2006 and again between 2010-2012. He resigned from his post after a dispute with former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, who presided over the fall of large areas of the country to ISIS in 2014 and is accused of pro-Shiite sectarian policies.

Despite his stated willingness to stand up to political pressure, Mr Allawi was reportedly a candidate agreeable to populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's Sairoon parliamentary bloc – the largest in parliament – and the rival Fatah coalition led by Hadi Al Amiri, leader of Iraq's Iran-backed militias.

Reports circulated online as Mr Allawi's nomination was announced suggested that he had agreed to eject US troops from Iraq, a key demand of both blocs.

Parliament passed a resolution calling for the removal of all foreign troops days after the US killed top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3. Mr Al Amiri's deputy commander in the Hashed Al Shaabi grouping of largely pro-Iran Iraqi militias, Abdul Mahdi Al Muhandis, was also killed in the strike.

Suleimani, who oversaw Iran's armed proxies in the region, was seen as a key tool of Iranian influence in Iraq. His assassination came after months of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran over US sanctions targeting Iran's economy and a series of unclaimed attacks in the region targeting the US and its allies.

Iraq is caught between the two rivals, needing US economic and military assistance as it seeks to rebuild after the devastation of the war with ISIS and prevent a resurgence by the extremist militants, while at the same time maintaining economic and security ties with its neighbour, with whom many of its current leaders have close ties.