Politics & Economics

Iraq's Tahrir Square celebrates after PM says he will resign


Protesters in Tahrir Square remain sceptical despite announcement by PM Abdul Mahdi and demand complete overhaul of political system.

Baghdad, Iraq – Tahrir Square in Iraq’s capital broke out in celebration with thousands of protesters dancing and cheering just minutes after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced he will submit his resignation to parliament.

Friday’s announcement came a day after more than 50 people were killed in the capital Baghdad and Iraq’s mainly-Shia southern cities of Nasiriya and Najaf.

Thursday was described as the “bloodiest day” since anti-government demonstrations began in early October.

Abdul Mahdi released a statement shortly after the representative of Iraq’s top Shia leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, addressed worshippers at Friday prayers in the holy city of Karbala to condemn the use of lethal force against protesters and called for a new government.

Quoting al-Sistani’s speech, Abdel Mahdi said he would present his resignation to parliament so legislators could select a new government, an announcement that was welcomed by protesters.

“The premier’s offer to resign is a great first step and we’re extremely elated to receive this news,” Mustafa, 24, told Al Jazeera as he celebrated among the crowds in Tahrir Square.

“Even if we paid a heavy price to get here, it means that the protesters managed to pressure the government to address our demands. It means our sacrifices were worth it.”

Another protester, 30-year-old Noor, ruled out calling off the protesting, adding that the resignation was “just the first step”.

“But this the happiest we’ve felt in a long time,” she told Al Jazeera while waving an Iraqi flag with her friends in Tahrir Square. “We’re celebrating this victory after sacrificing blood and tears for the sake of this moment.”

Scepticism remains

While the majority in Tahrir Square was happy to hear the announcement, some remained sceptical.

“This step is not enough for most of Iraqis, especially after so many people have died,” Zainab, 29, told Al Jazeera.

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An Iraqi woman reacts as she looks at a makeshift memorial with personal belongings of those who were killed in anti-government protests at Tahrir Square in Baghdad [File: Khalid al-Mousily/Reuters]

According to Reuters and AFP news agencies, at least 400 have been killed and thousands injured since protesters took the streets in Baghdad and Iraq’s south to a complete overhaul of the political system in October.

“We don’t blame Abdul Mahdi for everything. He’s just the face of a body that so many others are hiding behind – militias, political parties and politicians that belong to Iran,” Zainab added. “Even if Abdul Mahdi is gone, they will replace him with someone else. So we will celebrate when the parliament is dissolved and free and fair elections are held under the UN’s supervision.”

Next steps

Iraqi political analyst Ihsan al-Shimmari told Al Jazeera that the parliament is expected to accept the resignation after several political groups and the top Shia authority called on him to step down.

“The political groups will likely accept his resignation right away and start to negotiate and discuss who they will put in his place,” al-Shimmari said.

“Whether it’s the Marjia [Shia authority] or the biggest political parties and blocs, everyone has made it clear that Abdul Mahdi needs to step down,” he added.

According to Article 81 of the Iraqi constitution, the president is expected to “charge another nominee to form the Council of Ministers within a period not to exceed fifteen days”.

Renad Mansour, head of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera that the protesters will not be satisfied even if Abdul Mahdi resigns.

“He was chosen by a group of political parties that make up the Iraqi government. They chose him because he was a compromise candidate who would give in to their demands as they looked to extend their political and economic power,” Mansour said.

“The protests were about removing a whole system. With the system and political parties still in place, it’s hard to see the protesters satisfied simply by the removal of a prime minister they considered a symptom of a bigger problem.”

Article: Al-Jazeera

Image: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP, Khalid al-Mousily/Reuters