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Iraqi Prime Minister to Step Down as Human Rights Defenders Condemn Security Forces' Attacks on Anti-Government Protesters

The country's top Shiite cleric called for a change in leadership Friday "to preserve the blood of [Iraq's] children."

Iraqi protesters during clashes amid a demonstration against state corruption, failing public services, and unemployment in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on October 5, 2019. (Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced Friday that he would resign following weeks of anti-government protests and a violent response from security forces which has been condemned by global human rights campaigners.

Protesters in Baghdad's Tahrir Square cheered after Abdul Mahdi said he would submit his resignation to Parliament. The announcement came a day after at least 25 people were killed by security forces wielding live ammunition and tear gas in the southern city of Nasiriyah. 

Nationwide, more than 62 protesters were shot dead on Thursday and more than 400 people have been killed in the protests since they began October 1.

Earlier on Friday, the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for a change in leadership amid the demonstrations, which have been led largely by young people protesting high unemployment rates, government corruption, and weak public services. 

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"The Parliament, from which this current government is drawn, is asked to reconsider its choice in this regard and act according to Iraq's interest... [to] preserve the blood of its children," said al-Sistani.

The violence that erupted in Nasiriyah on Thursday led Amnesty International to repeat its demand that Iraq's government end its crackdown on unarmed protesters.

"This brutal onslaught is just the latest in a long series of deadly events where Iraqi security forces meted out appalling violence against largely peaceful protesters," said Lynn Maalouf, the organization's Middle East research director. "The international community must speak loudly and clearly, pressing for Iraq to rein in the security forces and launch effective and impartial investigations aimed at bringing to justice those responsible for unlawful killings and other serious violations."

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