Who is Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, Iraq's possible next Prime Minister
Updated: Feb 2, 2020
Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi may be Iraq's next Prime Minister. His selection by President Barham Salih comes just over two months since Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned at the end of November following months of protests.
Abdul Mahdi was Prime Minister since October 2018. His term was rocked by instability, particularly protests in the fall of 2019. It also had to deal with US-Iran tensions that began in May 2019 as well as alleged Israeli airstrikes in July and August 2019 that targeted the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). With more than 600 protesters killed and 20,000 injured in protests since October; and two major protest movements in Iraq now emerging; the new PM will have substantial hurdles. Muqtada al-Sadr, backed by the PMU, is leading protests against the US presence and Iranian-backed militias have targeted the US with rockets over the last year. One US contractor has been killed. Ballistic missiles were fired by Iran at Ayn al-Assad base in early January following the US killing IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3. In addition it now appears that dozens of US forces suffered some minor injuries as a result of the ballistic missile attacks. Rockets have been fired at the US embassy in the Green Zone and protests on December 31 targeted the US embassy.
Iraq's next Prime Minister must not only deal with US-Iran tensions but the months of social protests, many of them against Iranian-backed militias. These have led to the burning of Iranian consulates and targeting of various militia headquarters. The new POM must also deal with the rising ISIS threat and negotiations with the autonomous Kurdistan region. There are budget issues and continuing Turkish airstrikes in Iraq as well. The Coalition is continuing to train Iraqi forces but tensions reduced focus on ISIS.
Allawi's name emerged recently as the crises of lack of leadership comes to a head. Sadr has called for a sit-in at the Green Zone on February 1, a week after he led hundreds of thousands to protest the US. President Barham Salih had even threatened to resign last month. "If the concerned blocs are unable to resolve the nomination issue by no later than Saturday, February 1... I see an obligation to exercise my constitutional powers by tasking whomever I find most acceptable to parliament and the people," Barham Salih wrote in a letter seen by AFP.
Who is Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi (محمد توفيق علاوي)?
Minister of Communications in the Al Maliki government from May 2006 until August 2007.
Minister of Communications December 2010- August 2012.
A former Minister of Communications he announced in a short video that he had been asked by President Barham Salih to form a government on February 1, 2020. Allawi has already hinted he would refuse if political blocs sought to impose candidates for different ministries. Rumors for several days pointed to his being selected. Arab News notes: "He also called on protesters to continue demonstrating until their demands are met. However, protesters are likely to oppose him as prime minister." He has said that the right of protesters must be protected and that those carrying out abuses must be held to account.
Tweets online already accuse him of being part of the corruption that protesters oppose. This may not be due to his personal involvement, but being part of an aging political class that the protesters oppose. His image has even appeared on protest signs, already opposing him. Iranian media profiled him and said he was liberal and secular and supported by Ayatollah Sistani.
The situation in Iraq is volatile and it's unclear he has the popular support to do much about it the major problems in the country. It is not clear if he is more effectual than Abdul Mahdi and much suggests he is not. He relative lack of presence in the public sphere is one example. Allawi was one of the ministers pressured to withdraw from the Maliki government in 2007 by Ayad Allawi. He is a cousin of Ayad Allawi and was involved closely in politics after 2004; serving in two governments. In the past he has sought to work with different political blocs, including outreach to Kurds, to Turkey and Shi'ite parties.
As Communications Minister he told the US that while he supported privatization of mobile telephone contracts he wanted to resolve many challenges before bringing in foreign companies in his first years at the Ministry. According to US diplomatic cables "Allawi added that the Ministry receives a large number of complaints about current mobile providers abusing their monopoly positions, particularly in pricing...Allawi lamented that corruption continues to drain Ministry resources and compromise its ability to provide effective services. He raised the example of local telephone technicians who refuse to provide repair services without receiving bribes, but declined to comment on higher-level official corruption."
In November 2008 Allawi informed the government about reconstruction efforts in Nineveh. US officials noted "He reported that funds had been provided to Shia, Sunni, and Christian charities for some development projects, but that none had been completed yet. Allawi said that Mosul continued to resemble a battlefield, with streets still littered with debris, damaged storefronts, and few tangible indicators of improvement. He stated that Mosul needed to liquidate the funds it had more rapidly, so that it could move forward with infrastructure projects and get people back to work. He noted that workers and technocrats alike were in need of employment, and it would benefit the city's security if fewer unemployed were wandering its streets."
He was involved, as part of the Iraqiyya political bloc, in the 2012 decision to resign due to what he claimed was political interference by Nouri al-Maliki's government. "I required certain conditions from the prime minister, to stop the political interference in my ministry....Otherwise, I told him: 'I am not ready to work at the ministry with this big interference.'" This would point to his political independence, but his stance may have changed since then. At the time he was considered to be against the sectarianism that characterized Maliki's tenure. That sectarianism helped fuel the rise of ISIS in 2014. It has led to increased fracturing of Iraq's political playing field and human rights abuses on the ground.
Allawi told reporters, referring to Maliki: "I told him: 'Either you fulfill those conditions [less interference] or accept my resignation.' He decided after one month to accept my resignation." Eight years later things have changed. According to reports he has the support of Sadr's Sairoon parliamentary bloc as well as Badr leader and Fatah party head Hadi al-Amiri and former PM Haider al-Abadi.
"He is a moderate political individual who is honest and I don't think he will accept the terms of the political class," Jaber Al Jaberi, a member of Parliament, told The National. Al Jaberi said Mustafa Al Kadhimi, the National Intelligence Service chief, "will be the most accepted candidate by the political blocs".
Sadr and Badr's Amiri agreed to support Allawi, paving his way to the Prime Minister's Office. Iran has welcomed Allawi's appointment and Sadr has called on protesters to stop blocking streets as he sent his followers to challenge protesters near Tahrir square.