Thousands of Iraqis have gathered in Iraq‘s capital Baghdad and across several southern cities for an eighth consecutive day of anti-government protests.
Demonstrators on Friday demanded economic reform, a government overhaul and an end to the country’s quota-based power-sharing system, while also rejecting Thursday’s announcement by Iraq’s president when he promised to hold a snap parliamentary election once a new law is passed.
President Barham Salih said the country’s beleaguered Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has agreed to step down if a replacement was found.
Abdul Mahdi, despite promises of reforms and a broad reshuffle of his cabinet, has struggled to address the protesters’ demands. He has refused calls for an early election made by his main supporter, populist Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
In a statement during the Friday sermon, a representative of Iraq’s top Shia leader Ali al-Sistani called on the Iraqi government to address the demands of the protesters, while warning against the use of violence by security forces against the protesters.
Mass protests that escalated over the past week have been met with a combative response from security forces, who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against those taking to the streets and have been accused by a government-appointed inquiry of using excessive force.
‘Resignation not enough’
Following Salih’s announcement on Thursday, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to reject Abdul Mahdi’s resignation as a suitable response for their demands.
People from across Iraq thronged Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in a show of fury at an elite they see as deeply corrupt, beholden to foreign powers and responsible for daily privations and shambolic public services.
“Today, the best of the Iraqi people are here against those corrupt traitors, the lowest run of society. God willing, their days are numbered and their place is the dustbin of history,” a protester, who identified himself as Abu Motaz, told Reuters News Agency on Thursday.
Amnesty International said on Thursday security forces were using “previously unseen” tear gas canisters modelled on military grenades that are 10 times as heavy as standard ones.
The overall level of violence has eased in the capital this week despite the killing of three protesters by security forces overnight and early on Thursday morning.
The three died after tear gas canisters were thrown directly at them. More than 50 protesters were injured.
Protests also occurred in seven other provinces. Thousands gathered in Nassiriya, Diwaniya and oil-rich Basra while hundreds hit the streets in Hilla, Samawa and Najaf.
The demonstrations follow a previous bout of anti-government demonstrations held in early October.
More than 250 people have been killed and thousands wounded since the protests erupted.
Many protesters feel the country’s vast oil wealth has not adequately trickled down to its citizens, nearly three-fifths of whom live on less than six dollars a day, World Bank figures show.
Millions lack access to adequate healthcare, education, clean water and electricity.