BAGHDAD: Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in Najaf on Sunday for the second time in a week, as demonstrations continued despite the confirmation of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s resignation.
More than 420 people have been killed in a violent Iranian-orchestrated response to two months of protests against corruption, economic hardship and failed public services.
In a victory for the protesters, a police major was sentenced to death and a lieutenant colonel was jailed for seven years for killing seven civilians in the southern city of Kut in November.
Pope Francis on Sunday joined criticism of the crackdown. “I am following the situation in Iraq with concern. It is with pain that I have learned of the protest demonstrations of the past days that were met with a harsh response,” said the pope, who wants to visit Iraq next year.
Meanwhile, funerals took place for dead protesters, and mourners marched for the first time in Salaheddin, a Sunni-majority province north of Baghdad.
Eight Shiite provinces also announced a day of mourning during which government offices would remain shut.
Clashes continued in Najaf, where armed men in civilian clothes fired on protesters who had torched part of a Shiite shrine.
Abdel Mahdi resigned last week under pressure from the influential Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and Parliament on Sunday confirmed the fall of his government. President Barham Saleh will now be asked to name a successor.
Protesters demanded wider change. “Abdel Mahdi should go — and so should Parliament and the political parties and Iran,” said one demonstrator in Baghdad.
Iraq’s parliament voted on Sunday to accept the resignation of Abdul Mahdi. His decision to quit on Friday came after a call by Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani for parliament to consider withdrawing its support for Abdul Mahdi’s government to stem the violence.
“The Iraqi parliament will ask the president of state to nominate a new prime minister,” a statement from parliament’s media office said.
MPs said Abdul Mahdi’s government, including the prime minister himself, would stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government is chosen.
Under the constitution, President Barham Salih is expected to ask the largest bloc in parliament to nominate a new prime minister to form a government, a move expected to trigger weeks of political wrangling.