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Newly appointed Prime Minister of Iraq, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi delivers a televised speech in Baghdad, Iraq February 1, 2020. Image Credit: VIA REUTERS

Damascus: Iraq’s new prime minister Mohammed Tawfic Allawi is less of a household name than his two predecessors, but he certainly carries traits that have been lacking in all post-Saddam premiers.

For starters, he carries no sectarian agenda, having resigned from government office in the past objecting to the sectarianism of his then boss Nouri Al Malki.

Secondly, he was never on Iranian payroll and never lived in Tehran.

Allawi was born in Karrada, a mixed middle class district of Baghdad, populated by Muslims and Christians, in July 1954.

An 'activist'

He studied civil engineering at Baghdad University but was forced to drop out in 1977, due to his political activism against then-president Ahmad Hasan Al Baker.

He moved to Lebanon, joining the American University of Beirut (AUB) from where he graduated in 1980.

Returning to Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war he joined Al Dawa, an all Shiite Islamic party working in the underground, influenced by one of its chief ideologies Mohammad Baker Al Sadr, who was executed by Saddam in April 1980.

Allawi founded a factory for the manufacturing of concrete and marble, which was seized by Saddam due to Allawi’s political affiliation.

He fled again, this time to the UK, establishing a company for the sale of compact discs (CDs), which were in high demand in the 1990s, making him a small fortune.

During the decade, he was active in raising relief money for the Muslims of Yugoslavia, through the Kosovo Appeal, which he set up.

He also joined the Iraqi opposition in exile, returning to Baghdad after the fall of Saddam in 2003.

From Islamist to secularist

By then, however, he had discarded his previous affiliation with political Islam, joining parliament on a secular ticket, headed by his cousin, ex-premier Ayad Allawi.

He served in parliament from 2005 and was appointed minister of communications in the cabinet of Nouri Al Malki, first in 2006-2007 and again in 2010-2012.

He then resigned, objecting to Malki’s sectarian agenda and the practice of appointments according to sect, rather than merit.

In his address to the nation on Saturday night, Allawi seemed confident and calm, having been handpicked for the job by President Barham Salih to replace outgoing premier Adel Abdul Mehdi.

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Allawi with Iraqi President Barham Salih. Image Credit: AFP

Most parliamentary blocs endorsed him, including the powerful Sairoun of Moqtada Al Sadr.

On Twitter Al Sadr wrote that Allawi’s appointment was “good” for Iraq.

Allawi pledged to create a representative government, call for new parliamentary elections, and bring justice to the demonstrators who have been in the streets of Baghdad since October 1, 2019, suffering from a whopping death toll of 480, with over 30,000 wounded.

Rejected by protesters

Protesters, however, were already rejecting Allawi as a stooge of the political elite.

In Baghdad and southern cities, demonstrators who have camped out for months demanding the removal of Iraq’s ruling class - and had succeeded in toppling the outgoing prime minister - chanted “we reject Allawi” and held posters of his face with a red cross through it.

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Iraqis protest againt Allawi's appointment on Saturday night. Image Credit: AFP

Allawi has one month to form a government and will lead it until early elections are held, for which there is no date set.

The former communications minister will likely get stuck between parties vying for cabinet posts, prolonging the political deadlock.

For the demonstrators, Allawi is part of the ruling elite and therefore unacceptable.

Hours before Allawi’s appointment, supporters of Al Sadr attacked protesters in Tahrir square.