Adel Abdul Mahdi ready to stand down pro­vided ri­val fac­tions agree on ac­cept­able re­place­ment as pres­i­dent urges bal­lot

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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

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