Mohammed Allawi represents the same establishment protesters want to get rid of, and this is best encapsulated by Moqtada al Sadr's u-turn on the protest movement.

After an eleventh-hour agreement between the major parliamentary blocs, Iraqi President Barham Salih appointed Mohammed Allawi as prime minister-designate last weekend, finally moving forward with a candidate to replace caretaker premier Adel Abdul Mahdi who was effectively forced to resign due to his violent mishandling of the protest movement that has rocked Iraq since October last year. 

President Salih has charged Allawi with forming a new cabinet within a month, and Allawi has promised a government staffed with ministers who are competent and not compromised by their political connections.

While all this sounds promising, Iraqi protesters who have been out on the streets calling for change since October have made it abundantly clear that they are simply not interested in buying whatever Allawi has to sell. Sadr and other Shia clerics who pretended to be on the people's side are rightly seen as establishment figures whose priority is the survival of the system that lines their pockets.

Allawi is more of the same

Within minutes of the announcement of his appointment last Saturday, the demonstrators filled the streets of Iraqi cities, including Baghdad's Tahrir Square, with chants of "Allawi is rejected! Allawi is rejected!". 

Allawi's entreaties to the protesters to keep up their demonstrations "because if you are not with me, I [Allawi] won't be able to do anything," seemed to have little effect on the people.

The fact that Allawi had to admit to being powerless to make any substantive changes without massive pressure external to Baghdad's halls of power has vindicated the protesters' position that Allawi is an unsuitable candidate. 

Allawi very much embodies the "new order" class of Iraqi political elites that emerged following the US-led invasion that toppled decades of Baathist rule in 2003. 

A Shia Arab, the 65-year-old Allawi began his political career in the aftermath of the American invasion and twice served as communications minister under Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, likely the most sectarian politician Iraq has ever seen since its independence in 1932. 

Allawi resigned both times alleging corruption and interference in personnel appointments in his ministry.

But if he knew Maliki was corrupt the first time around, the question remains as to why he accepted to work for him again? After all, it is not as though Maliki, who ruled Iraq for eight years over an orgy of sectarian bloodlust, made any attempt at showing he was reformed. 

Despite his seemingly principled stance in vacating his post due to corruption, Allawi was oddly silent when Iraqi protesters were mauled in their thousands during Iraq's first significant protest movement that began in 2012 and lasted until Maliki violently murdered protesters in 2013. That opened the floodgates for Islamic State terrorists to burn a third of the country. 

In the present day, about 500 protesters have been killed, yet Allawi is unashamedly asking them to stay in the street to die for his sake.

Iraqi politicians need to start respecting the intelligence of their constituents. They are willing to die, but for freedom, not for an establishment figure like Allawi, who has already shown a disregard for the rights and lives of demonstrators in previous years. 

Further, it will not escape their attention that he is the cousin of Iraq's first post-invasion prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who was a pillar of the corrupt system that is now in place and that has reduced the lives of Iraqis to a pitiful tragedy of sectarianism, a lack of economic opportunity, and rampant and untameable corruption.

Clerics sell protesters out

Another aspect causing consternation and outright terror within the protest movement is the position of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who supports Allawi. 

Sadr has spent years, since Maliki's days in power, attempting to portray himself as an Iraqi patriot and nationalist who was not beholden to foreign interests and an anti-establishment figure. 

In reality, he and his various militias have long been supported by Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which probably explains his position following the US assassinating IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani earlier this year.

Allawi's premiership prompted Sadr to withdraw his previously fervent support for Iraqi protesters. He ordered his faithful flock of largely impoverished, working-class Shia to return to their business, back the prime minister and back out of the political scene now that he had gotten what he wanted.

When Sadr realised that the protest movement was a broad church and very few heeded his call to end the demonstrations, Sadr showed Iraq and the rest of the world who he really is by having his thugs murder a dozen protesters

The radical cleric was not doing anything new but was acting according to his character and the modus operandi he had established since 2003, namely the use of militia violence against civilians to achieve political ends. 

The first to feel his wrath were the Sunnis who were exposed to his death squads. Now, it is the turn of the Shia who refuse to bend the knee to his will.

Protesters were hopeful that Sadr would be taken to task by the world's leading Shia authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in his sermon this Friday. While Sistani mentioned the attacks in Najaf as being "unjust", he neglected to mention Sadr by name and refused to issue a fatwa, or edict, to make his position about violence against protesters clear. 

Instead, he spent most of his sermon slamming the security forces for not doing enough, despite it being obvious that this failure to protect and to serve is due to the power of the Shia militias outweighing that of the security forces, not to mention many state security units being staffed by partisan militiamen in the first place.

Sistani's failure to outright condemn Sadr is merely the latest in a long line of examples of the Najaf and Karbala-based clergy being unwilling to oppose one another publicly. 

Sistani, a man who issued a fatwa to fight Daesh militants and who effectively exposed Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to a sacking-by-fatwa, was incapable of telling Shia militias not to kill protesters and providing a religious authority for what few independent security forces units that still exist to stand up to these violent thugs.

This sadly shows that, while Iraq may have a new prime minister, it is still subject to the same old violence, and the same old corruption that forced Iraqis out into the streets in the first place.

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