In a repeat of Adel Abdul-Mahdi's elevation to Iraq's premiership, the leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the leader of the pro-Iran Al-Fatah Alliance, Hadi al-Amiri, agreed to nominate former Minister of Communications Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi as a new prime minister. Once Allawi was officially designated by the President of the Republic, Barham Salih, on February 1, 2020, the demonstrations intensified in Baghdad and a number of southern provinces denouncing their ally's, Al-Sadr, departure from the protesters' conditions that the next prime minister must be independent, does not hold two nationalities and has not been a member of any previous government.
This paper sheds light on Allawi's nomination, Al-Sadr's and the protest movement' stances and explores Allawi's ability to form a government.
After several months of protests that Muqtada al-Sadr supported, the man abandoned his rejection of any attempts designed to ignore the new reality the popular protest movement has created. Not only that, Al-Sadr has joined hands with the leader of the Al-Fatah Alliance, Hadi al-Amiri, under the aegis of Lebanon's Hezbollah whose leader took on a mission, at the behest of Tehran, to fill the void left by the killing of commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, and rearrange Iraq affairs by employing his close relationship with the Sadrist movement and pro-Iran Iraqi groups. Hassan Nasrallah succeeded in arranging a meeting between Al-Sadr and a number of Iraqi militia leaders in the Iranian city of Qom, preceded by a meeting between Al-Sadr and Al-Amri. During the meeting, both men were asked to unify ranks and agree on a new prime minister following Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation. They were also asked to form a front resisting the U.S. presence in Iraq. On February 1, 2020, "Independent Arabia" reported, citing special sources, that Mohammad Kawtharani, a Lebanon's Hezbollah leader, and Iranian official Hassan Danai, have supported Allawi's nomination" as an immediate necessity for pro-Iran factions. This came amid concerns over the expiry of the deadline set by the President of the Republic, Barham Salih, and the prospect that Salih might name a figure, loyalty and positions will be unknown.
It seems that the reasons for Hezbollah's support for the nomination of Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi are related to the historical relations that bring together the leaders of the party with the prime minister-designate when he served as minister of communications. At that time, Allawi gave way to Hezbollah-affiliated companies to win lucrative investment and operational contracts marred by corruption and overpricing. These deals were concluded amidst the total complicity of the “Shiite” forces that either earned part of the profits or entered as secondary partners or obtained facilities to launder their money through these projects. These ventures still generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually, especially in the poor-quality, high-cost Internet services sector.
Besides, several observations over Allawi's designation can be noted, including:
Allawi: The Reproduction of Adel Abdul-Mahdi
Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi is considered a veteran Iraqi politician despite the fact that he does not adhere to a specific political line as a result of the intellectual transformations he has experienced. Nevertheless, at some stage, he joined the Islamic Dawa Party which was founded by Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and left it later on but kept ties with the Islamist parties, especially the "Islamic Supreme Council" led by Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. These ties helped Allawi to remain active in the new Iraqi political system since 2005, when he joined Al-Iraqiya List led by Iyad Allawi, and was thereafter elected a member of the parliament for two consecutive terms 2006-2010. He was also appointed minister of communications in the two governments of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki before he was forced to resign due to conflicts with Al-Maliki. He was subsequently accused of squandering public money, a charge that handed him a seven-year prison term. But in 2014, he returned back to Iraq and was cleared of all charges after they were found incorrect.
On the personality and leadership characteristics level, it appears that Allawi's personality has much resemblance to that of Adel Abdul Mahdi in several aspects, most notably:
Al-Sadr’s Shifting Positions
The shift in the Sadrist movement’s position came to light soon after the killing of Iran's Qods Force leader Qasim Soleimani and deputy commander of the “Popular Mobilization Forces”, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, on January 3, 2020. The targeting of the two men revealed a total U.S. willingness to confront Tehran until the last stage. This matter placed the Iranian regime in danger and made it grow more fearful that its traditional allies, Nuri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri, could not end the Iraqi crisis and suppress the protests that raised slogans rejecting Iranian influence. Accordingly, Tehran decided to work on an alternative plan that would allow it to deal with the new reality. One of its priorities was to find a way to win over Muqtada Al-Sadr as the most important player in the Iraqi political landscape in a manner that guarantees it to achieve several goals simultaneously:
Al-Sadr's decision to realign with Iran Tehran soon came into effect when he called for a demonstration on January 24, 2019 to demand the expulsion of foreign forces from the country. This can be considered the first step on the road to diverting the protest movement, especially after a series of attacks on various protest arenas in the evening of the same day by unidentified armed groups, during which tents were burned and protesters were fired upon. Neither Al-Sadr nor his spokesman, Saleh Muhammad Al-Iraqi, responded to the developments on their social media pages. On the contrary, he used a stronger tone critical of the protesters, suggesting in one of his tweets that he is a "bit unhappy with the protesters....and that the country cannot stand further destruction". He then followed this tweet by ordering the "Blue Hats" (a group of the Saraya Al Salam charged with protecting the protests in their first days) to withdraw from Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Al-Sadr completed his sharp turns by giving the green light to storm the square, and control the protests' symbolic icon, the "Turkish Restaurant", by his supporters who carried banners welcoming the new candidate for the Prime Minister position. Two days later, Allawi was entrusted with forming a new government. Al-Sadr hailed the prime minister-designate as the "Iraqis’ choice."
Despite his adoption of a moderate reconciliatory nationalist discourse towards the “Sunnis” and his openness to civil and secular currents by trying to find common ground, Al-Sadr's sacrifice of the many years he spent in improving his image among the Iraq public indicates the magnitude of the stakes he placed on his return to the Iran's embrace. Further, Al-Sadr might be expecting a hefty reward for his pro-Iran recourse no less than Tehran's recognizing him as the leader of the "Shiites" of Iraq, equal to Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and Abdul-Malik al-Houthi in Yemen.
Allawi's Designation and the Protest Movement
The announcement that Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi was entrusted with forming a new government did not help defuse the protests in Iraq, but rather contributed to further escalation. The situation has continued to worsen given an atmosphere of mistrust between the Iraqi public and political blocs. After the official announcement of the new Prime Minister, the demonstrators rejected the candidate, saying he does not represent them, and slamming the political blocs for not listening to them. They also affirmed that any candidate who comes from within the current blocs is totally rejected.
Allawi's attempt to win over the protest movement by declaring his support for the demonstrators to continue their movement, and pledging to achieve their full demands in exchange for their support for any decision he takes against the interests of the political elite, did not succeed. The response was explicit and straightforward by the majority of the protesters, especially those with no ideological affiliation, who voiced total rejection of the PM's designation scenario and threatened to escalate the protest movement. This is what happened, as the southern provinces of Iraq witnessed a school and university student strike. The developments prompted the leader of the Sadrist movement to ask the "Saraya Al Salam" disguised under the name "Blue Hats" to suppress the demonstrations under the pretext of securing them from the infiltrators and saboteurs. This caused a sharp division that damaged the common ground between the two parties, especially after videos leaked showing the violent attacks by Al-Sadr's supporters against the protesters. This violence was widely considered part of the price that Sadr had to pay for Iran in exchange for being recognized as the most important actor in shaping the future of Iraq's political process.
On the other hand, the protesters insist on their position, as the clash with the "Blue Hats", has seemingly freed them from the restrictions of field partnership with the Sadrists, and gave their movement further thrust and dynamism based mainly on the sacrifices they have made over the past four months. The student unions played a key role in increasing the momentum of the protest, especially the "Baghdad Student Union", which agreed to organize a one-million demonstration on Sunday of each week to compensate for the fluctuation in the number of demonstrators. This brings the protests back to the fore in a way that is impossible to suppress by the political forces. It also gives the protesters the space they need to see the results that the Prime Minister-designate can achieve, the form of government he will lead, the extent of his ability to get out of the pressure of political parties and head towards early elections.
The Cabinet and Partisan Competition
It seems that the deadlock in the political process has not ended after the appointment of Allawi, due to the escalation of disputes between political forces over power. The appointed Prime Minister, in turn, has not announced the mechanisms that he will adopt in choosing his cabinet members. Accordingly, conflicts emerged between the political parties on several levels, including:
Allawi's Government: Possible Future Scenarios
First Scenario: Allawi's Success in Forming a New Government
This scenario assumes that Prime Minister-designate Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi succeeds in forming an independent government that works to implement part of the demands of the demonstrators, and that it enjoys the support of the silent majority, which is beginning to show more signs of concern that the protests will continue for an unknown period. A number of considerations support this scenario, most notably:
Second Scenario: Allawi’s Failure to Form a New Government
This scenario assumes that the next government of Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi will not succeed because of the heavy burden left by previous governments. Among the reasons underlying this scenario are Iranian hegemony over the security and political decisions, and the U.S. administration’s pressures that threaten to take punitive measures if the Iraqi government fails to prevent Tehran from using Iraq as an outlet to circumvent U.S. economic sanctions, along with a number of considerations, most notably:
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