Iraq’s embattled premier yesterday announced he would resign in keeping with the wishes of the country’s top cleric, as renewed violence added to a soaring death toll in two months of anti-government protests.
Adel Abdel Mahdi’s written statement was greeted with cheers and blaring music across Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir Square, where demonstrators have massed since early October against a ruling class deemed corrupt and in hock to foreign powers.
“I will submit to the esteemed parliament a formal letter requesting my resignation from the premiership,” Abdel Mahdi wrote, just hours after Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani used his weekly sermon to urge parliament to replace the cabinet.
Abdel Mahdi would be the first prime minister to step down since Iraq became a parliamentary system following the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“It’s our first victory, and we’re hoping for many more,” shouted one demonstrator in Tahrir, as patriotic tunes blasted from the motorised rickshaws used to ferry casualties from the square.
Nearby, protesters occupying a gutted 18-storey building that has become a symbol of the uprising could be seen dancing and pumping their fists in the air.
But despite their joy, many said the premier’s resignation did not go far enough.
“We won’t leave the square until every last one of those corrupt people resigns,” said another demonstrator in a black shirt.
The grassroots movement is the largest Iraq has seen in decades, but also the deadliest, with more than 400 people dead and 15,000 wounded in Baghdad and the Shia-majority south, according to an AFP tally.
The toll continued to rise yesterday, with 15 protesters shot dead in the flashpoint city of Nasiriyah and another killed in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf.
The previous day had been one of the bloodiest yet, with 44 demonstrators killed and nearly 1,000 wounded in Baghdad and across the south.
That came after protesters stormed the Iranian consulate in Najaf late Wednesday, accusing the neighbouring country of propping up Iraq’s government.
Since October 1, Baghdad and the south have been rocked by the most widespread street unrest in decades, demanding an overhaul of the ruling elite and reforms to root out corruption, end unemployment and improve infrastructure.