On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his intention to resign from his position. Protesters who had been holding demonstrations against the government since the beginning of October saw this as a cause for momentary celebration, as the former Prime Minister was one representative of a corrupt government. The protesters hope to eventually replace the current government with a system that is less dependent on parties and more receptive to the idea of free and fair elections. While the resignation is a positive step toward change in favor of protesters, many remain skeptical that their efforts to bring about a total overthrow of the current government will ultimately be successful.
According to The New York Times, Mr. Mahdi’s announcement was intended to present the government with an opportunity to “reconsider its options, preserve the blood of its people, and avoid slipping into a cycle of violence, chaos and devastation.” The same article stated that the decision to resign was partly brought about by a statement from Iraq’s senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, in which he asked that parliament “reconsider its options.” He also said that if parliament does not stop procrastinating, “the country will pay a high price and everyone will regret it.” According to Aljazeera, Mustafa, a member of the celebrating crowd in Tahrir Square following the resignation announcement, stated: “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.” The same article from Aljazeera includes the following statement from another Iraqi citizen, Zainab: “Even if Abdul Mahdi is gone, they will replace him with someone else. So we will celebrate when parliament is dissolved and free and fair elections are held under the UN’s supervision.”
Ordinarily, it would have been admirable for the Prime Minister to resign in order to prevent more bloodshed on behalf of protesters. However, while a momentary victory may prevent some violence, using the resignation as a way to temporarily or falsely satisfy the protesters is not admirable. If this resignation had been a true relinquishment of power, that would have been a positive move on the part of the Iraqi government. However, it seems as if the entities who have controlled the government and who have continuously held power will simply select another figure to put in place who will act according to their wishes, providing the illusion of change in favor of the protesters. Changes need to be made in the way in which power is granted in Iraq. Protesters say that they want elections to determine who their officials will be, and those measures should be put in place. Protesters should not be fooled into being complacent. They should be listened to and their concerns should be taken into account rather than pacified.
According to The New York Times, at least 354 deaths and over 8,000 injuries have resulted from protest-related violence since the demonstrations began in early October. The protesters are angry about the government’s use of corruption and the increasing involvement of Iran in Iraq’s politics. Prime Minister Mahdi is said to have been widely supported by Iran and to have worked closely with Iranian officials during his time in power. While the resignation is a step in the right direction, the main problem is the government behind the Prime Minister. Many protesters say that the problem won’t be solved until parliament, political parties, and the rest of the government working behind the scenes is dissolved. Protesters remain skeptical not only because Mahdi represents only a tiny part of the corrupt government, but also because he will simply be replaced by another Prime Minister selected by President Salih. This process also tends to take a long time, since the preferences of many political groups have to be taken into account. While the president has expressed interest in moving Iraq toward a system that places less power in the hands of political parties and more power in elections, the Iraqi parliament has not been receptive to his proposals so far.
In the coming weeks, it remains to be seen whether the Prime Minister will hand over his official resignation to the parliament. The future will also determine whether the newly selected Prime Minister will be more or less receptive to the ideas of protesters and whether protesters will be able to further their impact by way of overthrowing other parts of the corrupt government.