Celebrations in Iraq following the announcement of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s intentions to resign continued into the night on Friday as violence raged on in southern Iraq.
In Baghdad, protesters celebrated the imminent departure of Abdul Mahdi with blaring music playing out across Tahrir Square, but said they would not stop their demonstrations until the whole of the political class was removed.
Violence raged on in southern Iraq, however, with reports of 21 people being shot dead in the city of Nasiriya. One protester was killed in central Baghdad as demonstrations continued.
Baghdad locals flash the victory sign on Friday evening after Iraqi PM Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced his intentions to resign
Residents in Baghdad celebrate after hearing that Abdul-Mahdi would submit his resignation to parliament
A man celebrates on the streets of Baghdad following the announcement
Thousands of people in Baghdad take to the streets to celebrate the news that Abdul-Mahdi would resign from his position amid anti-government protests
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi announced he would submit his resignation to parliament after weeks of violence claimed the lives of more than 400 anti-government protesters (file photo)
‘It’s our first victory, and we’re hoping for many more,’ shouted one demonstrator in Tahrir as patriotic tunes blasted from motorised rickshaws used to ferry casualties from the square.
Nearby, protesters occupying a gutted 18-storey building that has become a symbol of the uprising danced and pumped their fists in the air.
Many said the premier’s resignation did not go far enough, however.
‘We won’t leave the square until every last one of those corrupt people resigns,’ said another demonstrator.
‘Weed them all out. Every single one.’
A victory for Iraq’s national soccer team against the United Arab Emirates gave protesters at Tahrir Square more cause for celebration and they set off fireworks, enjoying a brief respite from the unrest.
Later, security forces shot dead a demonstrator at nearby Ahrar Bridge, police sources said.
Security forces meanwhile shot dead at least 21 people in the southern city of Nassiriya after protesters tried to storm a local police headquarters, hospital sources said.
In Najaf, unidentified armed men shot live rounds at demonstrators sending dozens scattering.
Protesters occupy a gutted 18-storey building that has become a symbol of the uprising danced and pump their fists in the air
People gather on the streets of Baghdad in celebration on Friday evening
A man holds up a scarf with the Iraqi national flag to the camera on Friday evening in Baghdad
Young, unemployed and unarmed protesters have led calls for an overhaul of a political system they say is endemically corrupt and serves foreign powers, especially Baghdad’s ally Tehran.
The departure of Abdul Mahdi could be a blow for Iranian influence after Iran’s militia allies and its own commanders intervened last month to keep the premier in place despite mass anti-government unrest.
The biggest unrest for years in a country struggling to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions pits protesters from Shi’ite heartlands in Baghdad and the south against a corrupt Shi’ite-dominated ruling elite seen as pawns of Iran.
Iraqi forces have killed hundreds of mostly young, unarmed demonstrators people since mass anti-government protests broke out on Oct. 1. More than a dozen members of the security forces have also died in clashes. At least 436 people have died in less than two months, according to a Reuters tally from medical and police sources.
The US today called on Iraqi leaders to address the ‘legitimate’ grievances of protesters including corruption after the embattled prime minister announced he would step down.
‘We share the protesters’ legitimate concerns,’ a State Department spokeswoman said, echoing a US line through the two months of protests.
‘We continue to urge the government of Iraq to advance the reforms demanded by the people, including those that address unemployment, corruption and electoral reform,’ she said.
The spokeswoman did not comment directly on Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s decision to quit, saying that the State Department deferred to the Iraqi government for further comment.
A group of men wave their arms in the air and call out in celebration as celebrations continued on Friday evening
A man holds up the Iraq national flag in central Baghdad on Friday
Two men hug each other during a joyful moment on the streets of Baghdad after the Prime Minister announced his resignation
Abdel Mahdi had been seen as a nimble enough player to please both Iran and the United States, arch-adversaries that both have longstanding connections inside Iraq.
He weathered two months of protests that had killed more than 400 people but gave up Friday when he lost the support of the Shiite Muslim-majority nation’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
The United States has repeatedly called for Iraqi leaders to listen to protesters but has been relatively restrained about intervening in a state that it completely recrafted after the 2003 invasion.
Much of the US focus has been on demanding that Iraqis distance themselves from neighboring Iran.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also threatened to impose sanctions on Iraqi officials found to have stolen wealth.
A State Department official said as the crisis escalated that Abdel Mahdi was the best prime minister that the United States could expect.
Vice President Mike Pence did not see him on a quick visit to Iraq last weekend, with a US official saying security concerns prevented him from going to Baghdad.