Iraqi President Barham Salih named Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi prime minister on Saturday, in a move immediately rejected by protesters.
The appointment comes after squabbling political parties failed to name a candidate in the two months since the former premier was ousted by popular protests.
Former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned in November amid mass anti-government unrest where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets demanding the removal of Iraq’s political elite. Nearly 500 protesters have been killed in a deadly crackdown by security forces.
As communications minister in Nuri Al-Maliki’s government, Allawi is also unacceptable to many. “Allawi is rejected,” they chanted in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Saturday.
Allawi has a month to form a government, but said he would resign if sectarian blocs tried to force Cabinet candidates on him. He told Iraqis to carry on protesting and “do not go back until you get what you want.”
Allawi would run the country until early elections can be held. He must form a new government within a month.
Allawi was quoted by State TV as saying he would resign if political blocs sought to impose candidates for different ministries. He also called on protesters to continue demonstrating until their demands are met.
However, protesters are likely to oppose him as prime minister.
For demonstrators who demand a removal of what they say is a corrupt ruling elite, the former communications minister under ex-premier Nuri al-Maliki – who presided over the fall of multiple Iraqi cities to Daesh in 2014 and is accused of pro-Shiite sectarian policies – is part of the system and therefore unacceptable.
Iraq is facing its biggest crisis since the military defeat of Daesh in 2017. A mostly Shiite popular uprising in Baghdad and the south challenges the country’s mainly Iran-backed Shiite Muslim ruling elite.
The country has been thrown into further disarray since the killing of Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Iran responded with missile attacks on bases hosting US forces, pushing the region to the brink of an all-out conflict.
Pro-Iran politicians have tried to use those events to shift the focus away from popular discontent with their grip on power and towards anti-American rallies and demands for the withdrawal of US troops.