Iraq’s Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, announced on Thursday his willingness to resign from his position as long as the two main political parties of that nation unify criteria for not allowing a power vacuum in the government, the Iraqi president announced, Barham Salih, in a meeting with the media.
n his first televised address in weeks, President Barham Salih said the country’s embattled Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was ready to step down, but there was so far no one to take his place.
“The prime minister expressed his willingness to submit his resignation, asking the political parties to reach an agreement on an acceptable alternative,” said Salih.
He pledged to hold early elections as soon as a new voting law and oversight commission was agreed, but his speech did not appear to impress demonstrators.
“Barham’s speech is just an opiate for the masses,” said Haydar Kazem, 49.
“Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation isn’t a solution, it’s part of the solution. The problem is with the ruling parties, not with Abdul-Mahdi.”
Iraq’s leaders have scrambled to respond to massive protests that erupted on October 1 over unemployment and corruption, ballooning into demands for “the downfall of the regime”.
Salih has held closed-door talks with top figures over Abdul-Mahdi’s ouster and parliament has called on the premier to come in for questioning.
Abdul-Mahdi has so far resisted, saying he would only appear if the session was aired on television.
Lawmakers met Thursday for a fourth consecutive day and agreed to broadcast any session live, with Sayirun MPs chanting: “Adil must come! Adil must come!”
UN warns against ‘inaction’
Abdul-Mahdi, 77, came to power a year ago through a tenuous partnership between populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and paramilitary leader Hadi al-Amiri.
The kingmakers’ alliance has frayed in recent months, as Sadr threw his weight behind the protests while Amiri and his allies backed the government.
A rapprochement built on Abdul-Mahdi’s ouster appeared close on Tuesday night, but disagreements over who could replace him seemed to have slowed down the process.
The United Nations’ top representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called for a national dialogue to draw a roadmap out of the crisis.
“Today Iraq stands at a crossroads. Progress through dialogue, or divisive inaction,” she said.
“Full access to all information, facts and figures will prove key. Window dressing will only feed anger and resentment.”
Since the US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq’s political system has been gripped by clientelism, corruption, and sectarianism.
Getting a job in government, the country’s biggest employer, is often secured with bribes or connections.
One in five Iraqis live below the poverty line and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.
That inequality has been a rallying cry for the protests.
“Because of these politicians, there are now two classes in Iraq: those with huge salaries and those killed demanding their rights,” said Sabah Kazem, a protester in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
Nearby, Diwaniyah saw its largest rallies yet: students, teachers, farmers, and health workers hit the streets as government offices remained closed.
In Basra, demonstrators cut off a main road leading to the Umm Qasr port – one of the main conduits food and other imports into Iraq – authorities said.
The rallies are unique in Iraq’s recent history for their fury at the entire leadership, even normally revered clerics.
“We don’t want them, so let them leave. We also don’t want the clerics – they have no business in politics,” said Hoda, a 59-year-old in a headscarf and sunglasses protesting in Baghdad.
Demonstrators packed onto two bridges leading to the capital’s Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are based, setting up barricades to face off against riot police trying to hold them off with tear gas.
Late on Thursday, paramilitary fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic, which had backed the government, held their own demonstration near Tahrir.
At least 257 people have died and 10,000 have been wounded since protests broke out on October 1, with 100 people losing their lives in the last week, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said.
Amnesty International said it had documented the “unprecedented” use of military-grade tear gas canisters that were directly shot at protesters and “pierced” their heads or chest.
It found at least five protesters had died in as many days from the “horrific” weapon and urged an immediate halt to their use.
By Maya Gebeily