NASIRIYAH: Iraqis kept up anti-government protests in Baghdad and the south on Saturday, dissatisfied with the premier’s vow to quit and insisting on the overhaul of a system they say is corrupt and under the sway of foreign powers.

Protesters have hit the streets since early October in the largest grassroots movement Iraq has seen in decades, sparked by fury at poor public services, lack of jobs and widespread government graft.

Security forces and armed groups responded with violence to the decentralised demonstrations, killing more than 420 people and wounding 15,000, according to an AFP tally compiled from medics and an Iraqi rights commission.

The toll spiked dramatically this week, when a crackdown by security forces left dozens dead in Baghdad and the southern hotspot of Nasiriyah.

Facing pressure from the street and the country’s top cleric Ali Sistani, PM Abdel Mahdi announced on Friday that he would submit his resignation to parliament, due to meet on Sunday (today).

But demonstrations have not subsid­­ed, with crowds in the capital and across the south sticking to their weeks-long demands for complete regime change.

“We’ll keep up this movement,” said one protester in the southern city of Diwaniyah, where thousands turned out early on Saturday.

“Abdel Mahdi’s resignation is only the first step, and now all corrupt figures must be removed and judged,” he added Teenaged protesters threw rocks at security forces in Baghdad, who were positioned behind concrete barriers to protect government buildings. The forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at the demonstrators, wounding 10, a medical source said.

Karbala was rocked by overnight clashes between young protesters and security forces exchanging fire bombs.

Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council on Saturday said it had formed a committee to probe the unrest, pledging to “pu­­n­ish those who attacked protesters”.

Since promising to submit his resignation, Abdel Mahdi has continued to hold meetings, including with cabinet and the United Nation’s top representative on Saturday.

Iraq’s constitution does not include a provision for the resignation of a premier, so submitting a letter to parliament would trigger a motion of no-confidence.

If parliament meets on Sunday (today) and passes such a motion, the cabinet would stay on in a caretaker role until the president names a new premier.

Chief justice Faeq Zeidan is one of several names being circulated as a possible replacement.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2019