Iraqi PM offers to resign

What happened: In an attempt to end weeks of anti-government protests, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi has agreed to resign on condition that a successor is agreed to replace him.

  • President Barham Salih announced the decision by the Prime Minister on state television. Salih said: “The Prime Minister has agreed to resign,” adding that Abdul Mahdi had asked “political blocs to reach an acceptable alternative” in order “to prevent a vacuum”.
  • Amnesty International claim that riot police in Baghdad and across the Shiite-majority south have used live ammunition and military-grade tear-gas grenades, often directed at protestors’ heads and bodies at point-blank range, to try and break up the demonstrations.
  • The BBC reported yesterday that a protester died after being hit in the chest by a tea-gas canister at a demonstration in Baghdad. It was the sixth such fatality this week. More than 250 people have reportedly been killed by excessive police force during two waves of protests this month to demand more jobs, an end to corruption, and better services.
  • President Barham Salih announced he would seek a new election law and call for early elections once the law was in place. He added: “The current status quo is no longer sustainable. But dissolution of parliament requires an absolute majority.”

Context: The protests began on 1 October following the announcement that popular counterterrorism commander Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi was forced to reassign to the Ministry of Defence. Many Iraqis view al-Saadi as a hero in the brutal war against ISIS. The protests paused in mid-October for the Shiite Muslim Arbaeen holiday but resumed on 25 October.

  • Protestors are demanding that the government find solutions to longstanding problems over unemployment, government corruption, and a lack of basic services — such as electricity and clean water.
  • After the first wave of protests, which lasted six days and saw 149 civilians killed, Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi promised to reshuffle his cabinet, cut the salaries of high-ranking officials, and announced schemes to reduce youth unemployment.
  • The turmoil has put a fresh spotlight on Iran’s growing influence with the executive branch in Iraq, building on links to Shiite militias in Iraq that have long operated outside the formal military system. In the holy Shiite city of Najaf, protesters danced to a patriotic Iraqi song from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

Looking ahead: The protests in Iraq pose a distinct challenge to Iran, whose main mission is to ensure continued rule by its favoured political and economic elite. The visit of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s IRGC Quds Force and the architect of its regional security apparatus, has signalled Tehran’s concern over the protests. President Salih will propose a new election law, but experts are predicting that he will likely struggle to get a majority of MPs to agree to it. Were Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi to simply leave the office, the constitution provides that the President becomes prime minister. Thus, Iraq might be faced with a Prime Minister who wants to resign but Parliament won’t let him.