The resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi did little to weaken the resolve of protesters in Iraq, who are now demanding that parties responsible for the violence against them be held accountable.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands wounded as authorities and unknown powers cracked down on the anti-government rallies that have been raging unabated since October.
The departure of Abdul Mahdi, whom Tehran had fought to keep at the helm, is a potential blow to Iran after protests that have increasingly focused anger against what many Iraqis view as Iranian meddling in their politics and institutions.
Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders who it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters. A senior US Treasury official suggested the sanctions were timed to distance those figures from any role in forming a new government.
The resignation leaves Iraq at a crossroads. It either paves the way for higher protester demands or could lead to international intervention.
United Nations envoy to Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said on Saturday: “The deliberate killing of unarmed protesters by armed elements is nothing less than an atrocity against the people of Iraq.”
She also urged Iraqi armed forces to spare no effort to protect the peaceful protesters from violence by armed elements operating outside state control, and at the same time called on peaceful protesters to cooperate constructively to ensure the peaceful protests can be duly protected.
Member of the foreign relations parliamentary committee Alaa Talbani told Asharq Al-Awsat that the international community is not standing idly by as developments unfold in Iraq.
She noted that Britain and France have called for bringing to account forces responsible for killing peaceful protesters in Baghdad. These statements coincide with American escalation against pro-Iran figures.
She predicted “greater violence” was in store for Iraq, remarking however, that the next prime minister will be “imposed” by foreign western powers, not Tehran.
Deputy of the parliamentary foreign relations committee Dr. Thafer al-Aani told Asharq Al-Awsat that Abdul Mahdi’s resignation will not spare him from judicial accountability for the killing of protesters.
Abdul Mahdi, who also served as commander of the armed forces, will be held accountable by the international community should the local judiciary fail to bring justice to the people, he added.
The protesters must continue to press their demands, while the government must cease cracking down on them, he demanded.
EU Ambassador to Iraq Martin Huth tweeted Saturday: “Outraged and deeply saddened at last night's killings of scores of protesters and security forces by criminal elements.” He wondered whether a fifth column and saboteurs had become involved in the unrest.
The government has said it would investigate and try those responsible for the violence, but there has been little evidence of real accountability, partly due to the complexity of Iraq’s varied security apparatus.