Iraqi prime min­is­ter to re­sign in wake of deadly protests

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - WEATHER - By Samya Kul­lab

BAGHDAD >> A day af­ter more than 40 pro­test­ers were killed by se­cu­rity forces, Iraq’s prime min­is­ter an­nounced Fri­day that he would sub­mit his res­ig­na­tion to par­lia­ment, a step that car­ried un­cer­tainty for the en­tire govern­ment and stirred fears of a pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

The move by Adel Ab­dulMahdi came 13 months af­ter he took of­fice and fol­lowed calls by Iraq’s top Shi­ite cleric for law­mak­ers to with­draw sup­port. At least four pro­test­ers were killed in the hours af­ter the an­nounce­ment in con­tin­u­ing vi­o­lence in Baghdad and south­ern Iraq.

Word of the planned res­ig­na­tion trig­gered cel­e­bra­tions by anti-govern­ment pro­test­ers who have been camped out for nearly two months in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Young men and women broke into song and dance un­der the sparkle of fire­works crack­ling from ev­ery cor­ner of the plaza, the epi­cen­ter of their lead­er­less protest move­ment, which seeks an end to sec­tar­ian govern­ment and elec­tion and an­ti­cor­rup­tion re­forms.

But amid the mirth, pro­test­ers said Ab­dul Mahdi’s de­ci­sion was a sin­gle vic­tory in the long and dif­fi­cult war aimed at dis­man­tling the post-2003 po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, a com­mon re­frain among demon­stra­tors.

“The po­lit­i­cal sys­tem will re­place him with some­one ex­actly the same,” said Taif, a 39-year-old pro­tester, as ju­bi­lant demon­stra­tors waved flags be­hind. “Un­til this sick sys­tem is de­stroyed, we won’t leave.”

On the street near the teem­ing square, another pro­tester named Mor­tada, 21, watched the fan­fare from a dis­tance. “We want true elec­toral re­forms. We want real change,” he said.

“It’s not one man, it’s the whole sys­tem that needs to re­sign.”

Both Taif and Mor­tada de­clined to give their full names, fear­ing re­tal­i­a­tion.

Pro­test­ers in the teem­ing square sang Iraq’s na­tional an­them. One man held up a sign: “I cry blood for our mar­tyrs.”

Nearly 400 peo­ple have been killed in the bloody crack­down on protests since Oct. 1, most of them young demon­stra­tors who were shot or hit by ex­plod­ing tear gas can­is­ters fired by se­cu­rity forces.

In a state­ment, Ab­dulMahdi said he “lis­tened with great con­cern” to Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al-Sis­tani’s ser­mon and made his de­ci­sion in re­sponse to the cleric’s re­marks.

“I will sub­mit to par­lia­ment an of­fi­cial mem­o­ran­dum re­sign­ing from the cur­rent prime min­istry so that the par­lia­ment can re­view its choices,” he said. Ab­dulMahdi was ap­pointed Iraq’s fifth prime min­is­ter since 2003 as a con­sen­sus can­di­date fol­low­ing months of po­lit­i­cal wran­gling be­tween ri­val po­lit­i­cal blocs.

If ac­cepted when put to vote, Ab­dul-Mahdi’s res­ig­na­tion would sig­nal a re­turn to square one in those slow-mov­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, Iraqi of­fi­cials and ex­perts said.

He would be the sec­ond prime min­is­ter in an Arab coun­try to be forced out by mass protests re­cently. In Le­banon, the res­ig­na­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri a month ear­lier, on Oct. 29, led to fur­ther po­lit­i­cal grid­lock and un­cer­tainty.

Ab­dul-Mahdi’s rise to power was the prod­uct of a pro­vi­sional al­liance be­tween par­lia­ment’s two main blocs — Sairoon, led by cleric Mo­q­tada al-Sadr, and Fatah, which in­cludes lead­ers as­so­ci­ated with the para­mil­i­tary Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Units headed by Hadi al-Amiri.

In the May 2018 elec­tion, nei­ther coali­tion won a com­mand­ing plu­ral­ity that would have en­abled it to name the pre­mier, as stip­u­lated by the Iraqi con­sti­tu­tion. To avoid po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, Sairoon and Fatah forged a pre­car­i­ous union with Ab­dul-Mahdi as their prime min­is­ter.

Now, with his res­ig­na­tion, un­re­solved dis­putes be­tween the coali­tions threaten to re-emerge, two Iraqi of­fi­cials said.

Ab­dul-Mahdi had al­luded to this chal­lenge im­plic­itly in ear­lier state­ments, say­ing he would re­sign, but only if an al­ter­na­tive can­di­date was found for the pre­mier­ship.

Of­fi­cials also ques­tioned Ab­dul-Mahdi’s de­ci­sion to sub­mit his res­ig­na­tion via the more time-con­sum­ing route of par­lia­ment, re­quir­ing MPs to vote, rather than send­ing it di­rectly to the pres­i­dent, who has the power to ac­cept it im­me­di­ately and de­mote the govern­ment to care­taker sta­tus un­til a new one is formed.

An Iraqi of­fi­cial said one of two things could hap­pen: “There’s go­ing to be a lot of horse-trad­ing go­ing on, or it could be paral­y­sis, and noth­ing changes.” The of­fi­cial spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of­fi­cials were not au­tho­rized to speak to me­dia.

The res­ig­na­tion also cre­ates le­gal un­cer­tain­ties as the con­sti­tu­tion does not pro­vide clear pro­ce­dures to guide law­mak­ers in the event of a pre­mier step­ping down, ex­perts said. The key is­sue was how long Ab­dulMahdi’s govern­ment could main­tain care­taker sta­tus in the event of pro­tracted po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“To my un­der­stand­ing there is no clause (in the con­sti­tu­tion) that says how long he can re­main in the post once his res­ig­na­tion is ac­cepted,” said Sa­jad Jiyad, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Bayan Cen­ter, an Iraqbased think tank.

The fed­eral Supreme Court might have to step in, he added, if the care­taker govern­ment stays for too long and if par­lia­men­tary blocs are un­able to come to an un­der­stand­ing.

In his weekly Fri­day ser­mon de­liv­ered via a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the holy city of Na­jaf, Al-Sis­tani said par­lia­ment, which elected the govern­ment of Ab­dul-Mahdi, should “re­con­sider its op­tions” — a clear sign he was with­draw­ing his sup­port for the prime min­is­ter. His com­ments prompted po­lit­i­cal par­ties to is­sue calls for the govern­ment to step down.

KHALID MOHAMMED — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Anti-govern­ment pro­test­ers hold an ef­figy of Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­del-Mahdi dur­ing on­go­ing protests in Baghdad, Iraq.

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