Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Friday he would offer his resignation to parliament so that MPs can choose a new government, in a move that follows weeks of bloodshed in anti-government protests.
Abdul Mahdi's decision came in response to a call for a change of leadership on Friday by Iraq's top Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, his office said in a statement.
"In response to this call, and in order to facilitate it as quickly as possible, I will present to parliament a demand (to accept) my resignation from the leadership of the current government," said the statement, signed by Abdul Mahdi.
The statement did not specify when he would tender his resignation. Parliament is due to convene on Sunday.
Sistani warned on Friday of civil war as the death toll from weeks of unrest in the Iraqi capital and southern provinces reached to at least 408.
The government "appears to have been unable to deal with the events of the past two months,” he said.
Sistani called on lawmakers to “reconsider” their support for the current government.
The parliament that voted Abdul Mahdi's cabinet is “invited to reconsider its choice in this regard and act according to Iraq's interest... (to) preserve the blood of its children," he said in a weekly sermon delivered by his representative.
Sistani also said protesters should distinguish between peaceful demonstrators and those with malign intentions.
Despite Abdul Mahdi’s announcement, violence raged on in southern Iraq, killing at least 21 people, and protesters continued a thousands-strong sit-in at Tahrir Square in central Baghdad.
Protesters celebrated the imminent departure of Abdul Mahdi, but said they would not stop their demonstrations until the whole of the political class was removed. Violence continued in southern Iraq.
"Abdul Mahdi's resignation is just the beginning. We'll stay in the streets until the entire government has gone, and all the rest of the corrupt politicians," said Mustafa Hafidh, a protester in Baghdad.
"It's not enough," said Ali al-Sayeda, another demonstrator. "We need them all out, root and branch. We can't let up the pressure."
Security forces meanwhile shot dead at least 21 people in the southern city of Nassiriya after protesters tried to storm a local police headquarters, hospital sources said. In Najaf, unidentified armed men shot live rounds at demonstrators sending dozens scattering.
Iraqi forces have killed nearly 400 mostly young, unarmed demonstrators people since mass anti-government protests broke out on October 1. More than a dozen members of the security forces have also died in clashes.
The burning of Iran's consulate in the city of Najaf on Wednesday escalated violence and drew a brutal response from security forces who shot dead more than 60 people nationwide on Thursday.