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The growing protest movement in Iraq has claimed dozens more casualties. Acceding to public demands, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said he will resign. But in the streets, the killing goes on, with security forces shooting down scores more of the protesters rallying against 15 years of failed governance, unemployment and corruption. Nick Schifrin reports on the “unprecedented” situation.
The growing protest movement in Iraq has claimed dozens more new casualties today. The prime minister says that he will step down, giving in to public demands.
But, in the streets, the killing goes on, security forces shooting down scores more protesters.
Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin reports on this critical day.
On the streets of Baghdad, protesters today declared victory. They have demonstrated for two months, and many gave their lives. They warned that sacrifice would be worth it only if today sparked fundamental change.
Man (through translator):
We consider this as the first step. We demand the resignation of all lawmakers.
Adil Abdul-Mahdi was a consensus candidate who struggled to deliver promised reforms. In early October, leaderless demonstrations rallied against 15 years of failed governance, unemployment, and corruption, and called for the entire political class' ouster.
They also criticized Iran's influence. Today, they burned the Iranian flag, and Wednesday night torched the Iranian Consulate in Najaf. In response, security services have used deadly force. More than 400 protesters have been killed.
The violence spread to Iraq's south, threatening to destabilize the country.
That's why, today, the spokesman for Iraq's most powerful Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spoke to followers and strongly suggested the government step aside.
Ahmed Al-Safi (through translator):
We call upon the House of Representatives, from which this current government has emerged, to reconsider its options.
A few hours later, Abdul-Mahdi's office released a statement saying he would step down, so Iraq could — quote — "avoid slipping into a cycle of violence, chaos, and devastation."
The initial response of some security forces or militias to begin to engage the demonstrators with violence really caused things to spiral out of his hands very quickly.
And so his remaining in office seemed to have no particular logic to it. It seemed to be a situation where he could not control the streets anymore.
Feisal Istrabadi is an academic and former Iraqi diplomat. He says Abdul-Mahdi's resignation is unprecedented, and will spark difficult horse-trading in a deeply divided Parliament.
You have the same political parties who have been at an impasse for the last year and a half having to form another government. We are in a state of deadlock probably for some time to come.
Protesters will be watching to ensure today was the beginning, not the end, of the reforms they demand.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
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