IRAQI PM AGREES TO RESIGN IN WAKE OF VIOLENT PROTESTS
Adel Abdul Mahdi ready to stand down provided rival factions agree on acceptable replacement as president urges ballot
Iraqi President Barham Salih promised his prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi would stand down, on the condition his resignation does not leave a “constitutional vacuum” and a replacement is found.
In a televised address, Mr Salih said Mr Abdul Mahdi had agreed to submit his resignation.
“The prime minister had previously agreed to submit his resignation, if the blocs agree on an acceptable replacement in order to adhere to constitutional and legal frameworks,” Mr Salih said.
The president said he would welcome an early election, but only after the institution of reforms to the current electoral system and a national dialogue to improve how the country was governed.
His speech responded to a month of protest in the south of Iraq, where at least 250 people have been killed.
Protesters say security forces are being heavy-handed and violent, but the demonstrators refuse to back down.
Mr Salih’s statement came amid reports that Iran’s top general, Qassem Suleimani, took the place of Iraq’s prime minister in a meeting with the country’s security officials shortly after the protests began.
The day after anti-government protests erupted on October 1, Maj Gen Suleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, flew into Baghdad late at night. He took a helicopter to the heavily fortified Green Zone, where he surprised a group of top security officials by chairing a meeting in place of the Iraqi prime minister, Reuters reported.
“We in Iran know how to deal with protests,” Maj Gen Soleimani told the Iraqi officials, according to two senior officials familiar with the meeting. “This happened in Iran and we got it under control.”
Protesters in the cities of Baghdad and Karbala, as well as most of southern Iraq, are calling for an end to corruption, more job opportunities and access to basic services such as water and electricity.
Since protests spontaneously began on October 1, young people are showing increasing anger towards outside influence in the country – chants of “Iran, out out” rang out around the demonstrations this week. Protesters reported seeing men in black clothing and masks standing in front of Iraqi soldiers, facing off with protesters and firing tear gas. Residents said they did not know who the men were, with some speculating they were Iranians.
“Iran is afraid of these demonstrations because it has made the most gains in the government and parliament through parties close to it” since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said Hisham Al Hashimi, an Iraqi security analyst.
“Iran does not want to lose these gains. So it has tried to work through its parties to contain the protests in a very Iranian way.”
The Iranians aren’t the only outsiders visiting the country, though. Special Representative
of the UN Secretary General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, visited Tahrir Square on Wednesday and was met by an angry group of protesters.
Security officials escorted her along the square, which has become the main protest site, and shielded her from demonstrators.
The EU has also called for an end to the “instances of excessive use of violence”.
“Despite the many calls for restraint, the past days have seen further deplorable loss of many lives and a great number of injured protesters, as well as the destruction of public and private property,” Maja Kocijancic, EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy, said on Wednesday.
Iraq’s semi-official human rights commission said 100 people have been killed and more than 5,000 injured since last Friday.
News of Maj Gen Suleimani’s visit came as an Iraqi soldier was killed in a rocket strike on the Green Zone and a protester died after a tear-gas canister hit him in the chest on Thursday morning.
“We want a total change of government – we don’t want one or two officials fired and replaced with other corrupt ones,” Hussein, a protester, said in Tahrir Square.
“We want to completely uproot the government. They think we will protest for one or two days then go home.
“No – we are staying here until the government is uprooted.”
Jaber Al Jaberi, an MP representing Anbar in western Iraq, said “no one believed that the situation in Iraq would get to this level”.
“It has got out of hand. The government and its backers are insisting on carrying out their crackdown on demonstrators. Everything is out of control,” he said.
Iran had stayed largely silent on the protests until Wednesday, when supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US and its regional allies of fomenting unrest in Iraq and Lebanon.
Mr Khamenei, who was speaking at Iran’s Air Defence Academy in Tehran, said that the US and western intelligence services “are making chaos” in the region.
He urged Iraq and Lebanon to prioritise national security and respect for the law, while also saying the protesters’ demands are “right”.
Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi offered Tehran’s “deep regret” about the scores of protesters killed in Iraq.
“We are sure that the Iraqi government, nation and clerics can overcome these problems,” he said.
Flag-waving Iraqi women chant slogans during anti-government protests in the central Iraqi city of Najaf