Iraq’s parliament formally accepted embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation on Sunday after mounting pressure from thousands of protesters who are demanding major government reforms and curbs on the influence of neighboring Iran.
The prime minister’s resignation came shortly after an emergency Cabinet session was held where the ministers approved Mr. Abdul-Mahdi’s statement, as well as the resignation of several top government staffers such as the chief of staff.
“In response to this call, and in order to facilitate it as quickly as possible, I will present to parliament a demand [to accept] my resignation from the leadership of the current government,” Mr. Abdul-Mahdi said in his statement Friday.
The country’s constitution requires parliament’s majority to announce the new candidate within 15 days. The nominee will then have 30 days to form a government.
But experts are warning of a period of instability without a clear leader as protesters have shown their ability to disrupt key cities, including Baghdad, and the Abdul-Mahdi government’s violent crackdown has yet to quell the unrest.
“The appointment of a new government, with all the uncertainties that surround it, is only half of the picture of what is happening in Iraq and what will shape its immediate future,” said Abbas Kadhim, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative.
“The other (and more important) half concerns the reaction of the protesters who are the driving force behind this crisis,” he continued. “Any government that is not going to present a credible program to meet this wide range of demands combined with the aptitude to implement it will not gain their approval and secure stability and security, which are essential prerequisites for moving Iraq forward.”
Iraqi citizens have been demanding an overhaul of the political system to combat corruption and provide new economic and employment opportunities.
Mr. Kadhim also warned of foreign actors that could attempt to interfere with a new government.
“Government formation periods in Iraq have always attracted regional and other international powers to converge in Baghdad and throw all their weight to tip the balance in favor of their interests — or what each of them unilaterally deems to be Iraqi interests,” he said.
Both the U.S. and Iran have watched the turmoil in Iraq with unease, though for very different reasons. The Pentagon sees a stable Baghdad as key to limiting Tehran’s influence and preventing a resurgence of Islamic State and other jihadist groups in the region.
The turmoil has put a fresh spotlight on Iran’s bid for influence with Iraq, where anti-Iran sentiment has been on the rise stemming from Tehran’s links to the unpopular Iraqi government.
Protesters have explicitly called on Tehran, which provides 40% of Iraq’s electricity, to stop backing elements in the Iraqi government that they blame for the country’s misery, including Shiite militia groups that have long operated outside the formal military system.
Despite Mr. Abdul-Mahdi’s ouster, protests continued through the weekend as three anti-government protesters were shot dead and at least 58 were wounded. Angry crowds last week burned an Iranian consulate building in Najaf, drawing an angry protest from Tehran.
Over 400 protesters have died in protests since Oct. 1, At least a dozen security officials have also been killed and security in the fortified Green Zone, where the government, the U.S. Embassy and foreign delegations are housed has been threatened.
The violence has drawn criticism from global leaders who have condemned the government’s use of live ammunition, tear gas and stun guns against the demonstrators.
Pope Francis in his weekly Sunday address said that “it is with pain that I have learned of the protest demonstrations of the past days that were met with a harsh response, causing tens of victims.”
The pope expressed concern of the continuing violence and told a crowd of tens of thousands in St. Peter’s Square that he is praying for those who have been killed and injured and for peace in the country.
— This story is based in part on wire service reports.