Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi
Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi Image Credit: AFP

Iraq's president stepped in to appoint a new prime minister after parliament failed to do so for two months, leaving the country largely rudderless at a time of multiple political crises.

The premier, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, is hardly a new face - he is a former member of Parliament and former minister of communications. But he is not tarnished by the corruption allegations that dog many other Iraqi political figures.

In his first comments upon accepting the nomination, Allawi paid homage to the anti-government protesters who have been out on the streets since October and he promised to keep their demands front and center in his political program.

"I want to speak to the Iraqi people directly," he said in a video. "I have decided to speak with you before speaking with anybody else because my power comes from you and without your sacrifices and bravery, there would have been no change in the country."

Iraq has been sinking deeper into crisis since protests began that challenged the political order and then became increasingly violent. The previous prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned but remained in a caretaker role increasingly unable to cope either with the uprising in the streets or with rising tension between the United States and Iran - both of which compete for influence in Iraq.

The protests, which are demanding an end to corruption and more jobs, have only grown despite a violent crackdown by the Iraqi security forces. They began with demands for the resignation of the government and for new elections.

Parliament largely avoided responding because reforms and new elections would likely mean that many established political groups would lose power. The country's senior religious authorities have largely sided with the protesters in demanding change and their pressure led the prime minister to resign at the end of November.

Since then, parliament and the president struggled to find a prime minister candidate on whom lawmakers and the protesters could agree.

The selection of Allawi is an effort to pick someone who has worked with a wide range of political parties and who is educated and secular, as well as having the requisite Shiite Muslim background under Iraq's power-sharing agreement.