(Bloomberg) — Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi pledged to hand in his resignation to parliament a day after some of the worst violence during two months of anti-government protests.
The announcement sparked celebrations in the capital, Baghdad, and rallies in the southern city of Basra as protesters welcomed the apparent climb down. Mahdi, who’s backed by neighboring power Iran, had offered to quit earlier but that time insisted he’d only go once lawmakers agreed on a replacement.
On Friday, the prime minister said that once he resigns, parliament can “review its options and act to preserve the interests of Iraq.” The alternative could be a “vortex of violence, chaos and destruction,” he said.
His move followed a call from an influential Shiite cleric for lawmakers to promptly hold “free and honest” elections to prevent the OPEC member from slipping into deeper chaos.
Sheikh Ahmed Al-Safi, who speaks on behalf of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, also renewed calls for officials to end the violent crackdown against protesters a day after security forces killed at least 25 people and wounded scores more in the southern city of Nassiriya, and demonstrators burned Iran’s consulate in holy city of Najaf.
Iraq will “pay dearly” for any delay by parliament in holding elections that “express the people’s will,” Al-Safi said in a Friday sermon.
At least 380 people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters since Oct. 1, Ali Al-Bayyati, a member of Iraq’s independent High Human Rights Commission, said in a text message.
Violence Against Iraqi Protesters Is Rising, Rights Group Says
Iraqis, mostly from the Shiite majority population, are protesting against government corruption, poor services, and wide-ranging Iranian political influence, calling for an overhaul of the ruling class.
The turmoil in Iraq, along with sustained rallies that removed the prime minister of Lebanon, pose a particular challenge to Iran, which wants to protect the significant sway it holds over politics in both countries.
Abdul-Mahdi, a former finance minister, was picked by rival Shiite Muslim groups as a consensus candidate following parliamentary elections in 2018, but has struggled to form a strong government and start the nation’s recovery from a devastating war with Islamic State jihadists.
(Releads with PM announcing intent to resign.)
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