Pressured by an expanding protest movement and a rising death toll, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq said Friday that he would submit his resignation to Parliament, taking the country into greater uncertainty and possibly months of turmoil ahead.
Today then Iraqi legislators approved Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's resignation on Sunday during a parliament session held in the capital Baghdad amid weeks of deadly anti-government protests.
As a result the government will assume a caretaker role for 30 days or until the largest bloc in parliament agrees on a new candidate to replace Mahdi.
Thus the government has now become a caretaker government, which will only address urgent issues until a new government is elected.
The largest political bloc or alliance will have 15 days to nominate a candidate which the president will then assign to form a new government within 30 days. This new cabinet will then be voted on by parliament, which needs an absolute majority to be voted in.
According to the number of seats won in the last election, Sairoon is the largest bloc. However, it said on Sunday it won't be nominating a candidate and wants to leave that decision to the Iraqi people.
According to leaked Iranian intelligence reports Iran has repeatedly sought to prop up Abdul-Mahdi since he became prime minister in 2018.
It therefore did not come as a surprise that the surge of violence also included an attack on the Iranian Consulate in Najaf, a city that is sacred to Shiite Muslims and where Sistani resides.
The protesters have called for a complete overhaul of the system that would push many of the parties out of the Parliament, depriving them of lucrative ministries. But it remains to be seen if they can persuade lawmakers to vote to disband a system that has served their interests.
Now, with the political situation, unresolved disputes between the Sairoon and Fatah party threaten to re-emerge whereby the two of them need to come to an agreement to see a new prime minister. thus there could be a lot of horse-trading going on, or it could be paralysis, and nothing changes.
Thus both the protesters and the ruling elite know that Abdul-Mahdi’s departure is not the endgame. Rather, it is likely to mark the start of a new struggle over what comes next for the government. Many of the protesters (most of whom are Shia) want to bring down the entire political system, which shares power between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds (with some guaranteed roles for other minorities). The state is rife with corruption. Sectarian parties plunder official resources to build up militias and buy support while providing little for the people. The Shia factions that comprise the largest blocs in parliament co-ordinate closely with Iran.
Some Shia politicians favor more shooting. Hadi al-Amari and Qais Khazali head one of the largest Shia blocs, called Fatah, as well as powerful militias. They work with Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the foreign legion of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. All want to spread Shia influence across the region—and think the protesters are getting in the way. Having thrown a bone to the protesters with Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, some in Fatah now want to deploy their militias against the protesters and clear the streets. The next prime minister, their men argue, should be more ruthless.
Other politicians argue for talking to the protesters. Many look to the president, Barham Salih, to play a leading role. He is a Sunni Kurd and aroused Abdul-Mahdi’s ire by quickly condemning the shooting of protesters. Under Article 81 of the constitution, he could serve as acting prime minister while parliament decides on a successor. He has not yet grabbed the mantle, but his call for a technocratic government has been echoed by Muqtada al-Sadr, a temperamental Shia cleric who heads parliament’s largest bloc, Sairoun. Sadr has a strong base in the slums of Baghdad and Iraq’s second city, Basra. A new government, he says, should reform the electoral law to weaken the hold of the Shia blocs, and hold early elections.
That might just satisfy some protesters. But they are also divided. An increasing number of them want no truck with any representatives of the old order, including Sadr. Some think he is trying to buy time and is also in cahoots with Iran, where he has been spending much of his time lately. The situation could escalate. In Nasiriya the killing of protesters outraged tribal leaders, who had thus far stayed on the sidelines, and who could tip the balance against the government. The danger is that the loudest voices on both sides will be those advocating violence.
Also, the constitution doesn’t state how long Mahdi’s government can hold on to its caretaker status if the nomination of a new candidate is delayed.
The ongoing political tug of war and maneuvering in fact may leave Abdul Mahdi's government in a caretaker role for a longer time period than expected.
Thus as suggested above there’s also concern that the disputes between Sairoon and Fatah will reemerge, throwing the country’s political state into more uncertainty. US officials have voiced fears that should the two parties come to a protracted impasse, it could allow for extremists to grow in Iraq again.
And it’s also unclear to what extent new leadership and current reforms recommended by Iraq’s president will satisfy protesters. Most have signaled no plans to abandon their protests and that they will continue pressuring their government to commit to more extensive reforms.
The demonstrators also want a new electoral law that allows them to vote in their own leader something that does not exist in the present electoral system whereby the largest parliamentary bloc has the right to nominate a new prime minister within two weeks.