Middle East

Iraqi Prime Minister Resigns in Deepening Political Crisis

NAJAF, Iraq — Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq submitted his resignation to Parliament on Saturday and planned to ask lawmakers in a televised national address to act quickly to replace him.

But Mr. Mahdi’s formal resignation may not spell the end of the turmoil that has racked the nation over the past two months. Parliament is scheduled to meet Sunday, but it has yet to agree on a successor, and several members said they were not even sure they would accept the resignation immediately.

A widening protest movement — driven by anger over corruption and Iran’s influence over Iraqi politics — and the government’s violent response had Mr. Mahdi under intense pressure to step down. Hundreds have been killed in the unrest.

But even if Parliament accepts Mr. Mahdi’s resignation, the formation of a new government could be many months away, a realization that has tempered protesters’ jubilation.

Mr. Mahdi and his ministers would still serve in a caretaker government until a new prime minister is named by President Barham Salih. History shows that agreeing on a prime minister has been a long, arduous process of balancing competing political factions.

The only legislation a caretaker government can enact involves the budget and national security.

Mr. Mahdi’s resignation is a particular blow to Iran. Many of the parties that dominate Parliament are close to Iran, and Iranian officials helped set up the current government last year, brokering an agreement that brought in Mr. Mahdi and Mr. Salih.

But pressure had been building on the prime minister for some time, including the threat of a no-confidence vote in Parliament. On Friday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric in Iraq, urged Parliament to stop procrastinating or “the country will pay a high price, and everyone will regret it.”

This past week, security forces killed dozens of people in the southern city of Najaf after protesters burned the Iranian Consulate there.

In all, at least 354 people have been killed since the protests began in October, and more than 8,100 have been wounded, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said. Its most recent report notes, “The actual total is likely to be higher.”

Across Iraq’s turbulent south, skirmishes between the protesters and the police calmed somewhat on Saturday.

But in Nasiriya — where 21 people died on Friday and 25 on Thursday — tensions between the police and protesters mounted until tribal leaders and civil society groups recruited dozens of women to stand between the two groups. The situation eased, although it was unclear how long the women would have to stay to keep the peace.

In Najaf, the strains remained high, especially around the tomb of Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim.

Ayatollah al-Hakim was a respected senior cleric who was assassinated in 2003, but his family’s deep ties to Iran have made the tomb a target of protesters. The situation worsened when fighters drawn from a Shiite militia appeared to protect the tomb.

Source: Read Full Article