Iraq’s president, Barham Salih, revealed on Thursday that the country’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, has agreed to resign following nationwide protests. The Iraqi president promised that an election will be held after a new law is presented to parliament to allow for early parliamentary polls.
“The prime minister announced that he accepted to submit his resignation if parties agree on an adequate alternative within the context of the constitution and the law to avoid a constitutional gap,” Salih said in a televised statement.
“I am personally meeting and consulting with the various parties and blocs to achieve reforms within the context of the law to maintain the security of Iraq.”
Protesters had been calling for Mahdi to resign and for there to be a new election within 60 days. Salih, however, did not provide a timeline in which a new election will be held.
“We want a total change of government, we don’t want one or two officials fired and replaced with other corrupt ones. We want to completely uproot the government,” Hussein, a protester, told Reuters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
“They think we will protest for one or two days then go home. No, we are staying here until the government is uprooted.”
Mahdi, a Shia Islamist politician, has been in office for just a year and his previous pledges for reform had failed to appease the rioters. Furious by his failure to bring about changes to tackle unemployment, political corruption, and public services, Iraqis stormed the streets for the first time on 1 October.
Iraqi Protests During October
Violence and bloodshed plagued Iraq throughout the month of October, amidst anti-government protests. Despite night-time curfews that were declared in cities like Baghdad and Karbala, thousands continued to gather in defiance.
Civil unrest escalated as fires were started and security forces used live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas to control the braying mobs. Amnesty International reported that the police were using tear gas grenades from Bulgaria and Serbia that are modelled on military grenades and are up to 10 times as heavy as standard tear gas canisters, resulting in horrific injuries and death when fired directly at protesters.
One male protester told the organisation, “Since 25 October, the anti-riot [police] has not stopped launching tear gas and ‘smokers’ into the crowd, whether provoked or not. It is continuous and random. … They are not using them to disperse, they are using them to kill. All the deaths in Baghdad have been from these canisters going inside the protesters’ bodies. They do not think about the fact that there are families and children in the crowds.”
Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International, said that Iraqi security forces deploying these grenades were aiming for the heads or bodies of protestors at point-blank range and victims’ skulls were crushed, resulting in gruesome wounds and death.
“The lack of accountability for unlawful killings and injuries by security forces, responsible for the vast majority of casualties this past month, is sending the message that they can kill and maim with impunity. The authorities must rein in the police, ensure prompt, impartial, effective investigations, and prosecute those responsible,” she said.
Over 250 people have died, and thousands injured since the riots erupted. The demonstrations were born out of public outrage about political corruption, unemployment rates, and inadequate economic infrastructures. Many claimed that since the fall of ISIS some two years ago, the government has failed to make improvements for the Iraqi people.
According to the World Bank, almost 60 per cent of the citizens in the oil-rich country live on less than $6 a day, leaving many infuriated that the nation’s wealth has not siphoned down to those in need. Millions of Iraqis do not have access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
In just two days, two Arab prime ministers have been forced to resign after mass protests – the other one was Lebanon’s Saad Hariri.
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said that the demonstrators in both countries have remarkably similar grievances – and they are shared by many others across the region. He also added that it is too early to say whether there will be upheaval on the scale of the Arab uprisings of 2011, although the factors that took people on to the streets then still exist in 2019.