Iraq’s parliament approved the resignation of the embattled cabinet on Sunday, after two months of violent unrest that have left more than 420 people dead and thousands mourning them in nationwide marches.
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said Friday he would submit his resignation to parliament following a spike in the death toll among protesters who accuse the entire ruling elite of being inept, corrupt and beholden to foreign powers.
The demonstrations spread from their epicenter in Baghdad and the mostly Shiite south to the northern, majority-Sunni city of Mosul, where hundreds of students dressed in black organised a mourning march for fallen activists.
Parliament opened its session on Sunday afternoon and within minutes had approved Abdel Mahdi’s resignation, which according to the constitution renders him and the entire cabinet a “caretaker government.”
The speaker of parliament said he would now ask President Barham Saleh to name a new prime minister.
Just before the session began, another protester was shot dead in the capital, medical sources said.
The protest movement is Iraq’s biggest since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein and installed a democratic system in the oil-rich but poverty-plagued nation.
The demonstrators have vented their anger at neighboring Iran, which is seen to wield huge influence in Iraq, with protesters last week burning down an Iranian consulate.
“Abdel Mahdi should leave, so should parliament and the parties, and Iran,” said a young demonstrator on Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the center of the protest movement that started in early October.
– First death sentence –
In other developments, an Iraqi court sentenced a police officer to death on Sunday after convicting him of killing demonstrators, the first such sentence in two months of deadly civil unrest.
The Kut criminal court sentenced the police major to be hanged and jailed a police lieutenant colonel for seven years for their roles in the deaths of seven protesters in the southern city on November 2, judicial sources said.
In Mosul, protesters were marching in solidarity with activists elsewhere in the country.
“It’s the least Mosul can give to the martyrs of Dhi Qar and Najaf,” said Zahraa Ahmed, a dentistry student, naming the two provinces where most of the recent deaths took place.
“The protesters are asking for their basic rights so the government should have answered from the beginning.”
Previously, most Sunni-majority areas had refrained from protesting, fearing that opposing the central government would earn them the labels of being “terrorists” or supporters of Saddam Hussein.
For three years, Mosul was the heart of the Islamic State group’s ultra-conservative “caliphate”, and much of it still lies in ruins today.
Another student in Mosul, Hussein Kheder, carrying an Iraqi flag, said the whole country was now on the same page politically and told AFP that “now the government needs to heed the protesters’ demands”.
In Salaheddin, a Sunni-majority province north of Baghdad where rallies were held for the first time, authorities had already declared on Friday three days of mourning for the victims.
And eight Shiite-majority provinces announced a day of mourning on Sunday during which government offices would remain shut.
More than 20 people were killed in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf, 40 people in the hotspot of Nasiriyah and three in the capital Baghdad in three consecutive days of violence.
On Sunday, an AFP correspondent reported calm in Nasiriyah, the birthplace of Abdel Mahdi, who came to power just a year ago based on a shaky alliance between rival parties.
He had resisted protesters’ calls for him to step down over the past two months.
But the crackdown turned the tide this week, as it prompted Iraq’s Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to call on parliament to drop its support for the premier.
In quick succession, political factions indicated they would support a no-confidence motion.