by Hayder al-Khafaji
Just as he was expected to present his cabinet to parliament for its approval, Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi – personally appointed by the president following months of political deadlock – instead resigned from his post on 1 March 2020.
The prime minister-designate broadcast a statement through media channels in which he directly addressed Iraqi President Barham Salih, apologising to the people and saying: ‘My intention was to form an independent government far removed from partisan pressure; however, in view of the fact that the deliberations to form a government unencumbered by political pressure and partisan coercion proved unsuccessful, I hereby tender my resignation.’
The media was quick to pick up on this news, which happened to coincide with a delay in the parliamentary session when Allawi had been meant to ask for parliament’s approval for his government and to pass a motion of confidence. Subsequently, media sources reported on a dispute between Allawi and Parliamentary Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi.
The Return of the Political Stalemate
These developments, which have propelled Iraqi politics into a blind alley as far as the challenge of forming a government is concerned, come in light of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s words on 20 February that ‘it would be wrong and inappropriate for me to continue to assume the responsibilities of office beyond 2 March 2020, failing which I will have to resort to the remedies stipulated in the constitution or the internal manual of the Council of Ministers.’
Article 76 of the constitution provided Iraqi President Barham Salih with a 15-day window to find a suitable substitute for Allawi. With the extensive differences within the Iraqi parliament and the likelihood of a repetition of the previous scenarios in forming a government, this matter looks set to be another marathon involving endless political debates.
Abdul-Mahdi, who became prime minister following the highly controversial parliamentary elections of last year, resigned from his position on 1 December 2019 at the height of the popular protests, and since then the political crisis in Iraq has been moving at a rapid pace on a daily basis.
Returning to Square One in Dealing with the Crises
Allawi’s resignation from his position, in addition to having taken Iraq back to square one in relation to the unending crises that had followed Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, leaves it unclear as to how a replacement can be found under these difficult circumstances.
The longstanding divisions between Iraq’s political factions are deeper than ever before. Certain opposition parties consider the timing of Allawi’s resignation little more than political expediency; others stress that he is obliged to reveal the pressures he was exposed to by the various groups in the matter of forming the government.
From the moment the name of Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi began circulating as prime minister-designate, many experts opined that his task of extracting Iraq out of its political crisis would be fraught with difficulties.
It is widely held that Allawi, in both political and social terms, cannot be counted amongst Iraq’s prominent personalities, especially since he lived abroad during Iraq’s darkest years. In terms of his ability to hold talks with a wide spectrum of Iraqi groups and gain public acceptance, Allawi cannot be compared with Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Despite his good relations with the parties and various Iraqi groups, he failed to address the most important political challenges facing the country and was eventually forced to resign.
In this regard, and following the resignation of Allawi, we have witnessed the re-emergence of the deep cleavages in Iraq’s political landscape, and there is now an increased possibility that popular protests will flare up again. Moreover, the current political and economic challenges facing the country look set to create an atmosphere that will further aggravate the multiple crises in Iraq.
Following the abject failure by the various political blocs to agree on a new candidate, on 17 March 2020 President Barham Salih tasked the leader of the parliamentary ‘Victory Alliance’ bloc, Adnan al-Zurfi, with forming an interim government.
The formal announcement was attended by the President of the Federal Supreme Court Medhat al-Mahmoud, President of the Supreme Judicial Council Faiq Zidan, and Parliamentary Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi.
Elsewhere, the second largest political bloc, al-Fateh, issued a statement regarding al-Zurfi’s mandate, saying ‘we hold Salih responsible for these provocative steps.’ On the same day, a number of parliamentary representatives from al-Fateh indicated that any government formed by Adnan al-Zurfi would not receive parliament’s approval, in view of the fact that the mandate handed to al-Zurfi by the President, ‘was contrary to the expectations of the largest bloc.’