Iraqi protesters reject leadership changes, demand systemic overhaul

Iraqi protesters reject leadership changes, demand systemic overhaul

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi will step down only if parliament’s main blocs can agree on his replacement, the country’s president said on Thursday, but tens of thousands of protesters said his resignation would not be enough.

Peoples from across Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divides thronged Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in a show of fury at an elite they see as deeply corrupt, beholden to foreign powers and responsible for daily privations and shambolic public services.

More than 250 people have been killed in clashes with security forces and paramilitary groups since protests began on Oct. 1 and eventually swelled into the worst mass unrest in Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.

Abdul Mahdi, who despite promises of reforms and a broad reshuffle of his cabinet, has struggled to address the street’s demands. He has refused calls for an early election made by his erstwhile main supporter, populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

“The prime minister had previously agreed to submit his resignation, if the blocs agree on an acceptable replacement in order to adhere to constitutional and legal frameworks,” President Barham Salih said in a live televised address.

Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday it would be quicker if Sadr and his main rival Hadi al-Amiri agreed on a replacement, and would prevent months of chaos.

At the behest of Iran, which exerts great influence on Iraqi politics, Amiri rejected Sadr’s push to oust Abdul Mahdi after meeting top militia commanders in his bloc on Wednesday, five sources with knowledge of the talks told Reuters.

While political elites jostled over Abdul Mahdi’s fate, Iraqis on the streets demanded an end to the entire governing system of identity-based, sectarian power-sharing.

“Today we are at a stage where our demand ceiling is much higher than the prime minister’s removal, The people of Iraq want a complete overhaul of the political system,” said protester Salman Khairallah, 27, who wore a tee-shirt emblazoned with “We dream of a new Iraq”.

“We want a pluralistic democracy that lifts this society from the pit we’ve been driven into for the past 16 years.”

But early elections cannot be held until a new electoral law is passed, Salih said, adding that he expected a bill to be introduced in parliament by next week.