Iraq Protesters Skeptical After PM Resignation: It’s Only The ‘First Step’

But while the move was welcomed with singing and dancing in the capital, some protesters remained sceptical and reiterated their demands for the complete overhaul of the country's political system.

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Baghdad’s Tahrir Square broke out in celebration minutes after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced he will submit his resignation to parliament after weeks of deadly anti-government protests.

Friday’s announcement came a day after more than 50 protesters were killed by security forces in Baghdad and Iraq’s mainly-Shia southern cities of Nasiriya and Najaf.

Thursday was described as the “bloodiest day” since the anti-government demonstrations began in early October, bringing the reported death toll to at least 400 people.

The statement by Abdul Mahdi, who took office a little over a year ago, came shortly after Iraq‘s top Shia leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the use of lethal force against protesters and called for a new government.

‘Great first step’

Iraq Protests
Driven by anger over corruption, high unemployment and inadequate public services, protesters in Baghdad and several southern cities have been taking to the streets since early October 1, protesting against the country’s ruling class and calling for the overhaul of a quota-based system established after the 2003 US-led invasion.

“The premier’s offer to resign is a great first step and we’re extremely elated to receive this news,” Mustafa, 24, said.

“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 said.

Others, however, stressed that a simple change of leadership would not suffice.

Iraq Protests
“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 said.

For many, this quota-based system over the years allowed certain individuals and groups to enrich themselves and expand their influence – all the while much of the oil-rich country’s population continued to endure severe economic hardship and poor public services.

What happens next

Iraqi political analyst Ihsan al-Shimmari told Al Jazeera that the parliament is expected to accept Abdul Mahdi’s 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.

Irak's PM and Saudi Arabia Official
Abdul Mahdi, 77, took the job just over a year ago after inconclusive elections produced weeks of political deadlock.

“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.

“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.”

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