New Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi appealed to Iraqis for their support on Saturday hours after his appointment by President Barham Salih, but protesters were already rejecting the head of government as a stooge of the political elite.
Allawi in a formal address to the nation on state television late on Saturday pledged to built a “state of freedom and justice” and to work to meet protesters’ demands for jobs and services and an end to crippling and widespread corruption especially by foreign-backed political and militia groups.
“I pledge to protect peaceful protesters and release innocent prisoners … told hold early elections … and protect Iraq from all foreign interference,” he said.
He said the election would be monitored by international observers but did not elaborate.
He said he would resign if political blocs attempted to impose candidates for cabinet jobs, and called on protesters to continue demonstrating until their demands are met.
Allawi will need to contend with militia groups and parties backed by Iran which have come to dominate Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
Since the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in 2017, those militias have gained even greater power in parliament and in the economy.
Some of those militias have been involved, alongside security forces, in the crackdown against protesters who began their demonstrations in October. Nearly 500 people have been killed in the unrest.
Soon after Allawi was appointed, protesters gathered in Baghdad and southern cities in opposition, including at Tahrir Square, the center of the uprising in the Iraqi capital.
For the demonstrators, Allawi, the former communications minister under ex-premier Nuri al-Maliki – who presided over the fall of multiple Iraqi cities to Islamic State in 2014 and is accused of pro-Shiite sectarian policies – is part of the ruling elite and therefore unacceptable.