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Iraq PM-designate Mohammad Allawi, consensus choice amid protests

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Baghdad (AFP)

Mohammad Allawi, who was appointed Saturday as Iraq's new premier, is a former communications minister and lawmaker who inherits a complex web of political challenges and four months of anti-government protests.

Allawi announced his own appointment as prime minister in a video he shared on Twitter, addressing Iraqis in colloquial dialect with the national tricolour behind him.

"A few minutes ago I was just a citizen, proud of what you have done for change. But I now work for you," he said.

A native of Baghdad, Allawi's political career began after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

He served as a member of parliament until 2005, then twice as communications minister from 2006 until 2007 and from 2010 to 2012.

Allawi had tried to implement anti-graft measures in the ministry but resigned in both cases, accusing then-premier Nuri al-Maliki of turning a blind eye to rampant corruption.

In a 2012 interview with AFP in west London, where he has a home, Allawi said he was "100 percent sure that the people surrounding Maliki, they are corrupt people".

He claimed at the time that he possessed documents proving embezzlement in Maliki's government and complained of attempts to control who could appoint senior officials.

But he now faces the enormous challenge of forming a government amid deep divisions in Iraq's political class.

Maliki, who still holds sway in Iraq's parliament, is said to have rejected Allawi's candidacy but other political blocs came to a consensus amid pressure by the president.

Allawi now has one month to form his cabinet, which will be subject to a vote of confidence from parliament.

- 'Weak personality' -

The prime minister-designate must also grapple with Iraq's largest grassroots movement in decades, which has seen rallies flood Baghdad and the mainly-Shiite south since October.

The demonstrators have demanded a politically independent figure to replace outgoing premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who resigned in December and had stayed on as a caretaker.

But as news of Allawi's appointment broke out, crowds of demonstrators in Baghdad, the shrine city of Najaf and the protest hotspot of Diwaniyah chanted against him.

Weeks earlier, they had hung a portrait of Allawi in Tahrir Square, Baghdad's main protest hub, with an "X" across his face, saying he was not enough of an independent.

Allawi, a Shiite Muslim, was a member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc which was headed by his cousin and former prime minister Iyad Allawi.

Since leaving government in 2012, Allawi has been based between the UK and Lebanon, where in 1980 he earned an engineering degree from the American University of Beirut.

While protesters complained that he has been too close to the centre of power, those in government expected he would not survive the convoluted politics of Iraq.

"Abdel Mahdi had much more political experience but Allawi is still young. He's simple and non-confrontational," said one official who had briefly collaborated with him.

Others said he would be boxed in by the demands of Iraq's divided blocs, which include influential cleric Moqtada Sadr who has backed the protests, and the Fatah coalition which is tied to the powerful Hashed al-Shaabi military network.

"He will work to please the parties that brought him to power because of his weak personality," another political source told AFP.

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