Iraqi president bows to protests and calls for new voting law


Iraq’s president has called for the drafting of a new election law and said he would approve early elections once it is enacted, bowing to anti-government protesters.

But President Barham Salih insisted that the sweeping changes they are demanding be carried out in a constitutional way.

Iraq has seen two waves of mass protests this month, with at least 250 protesters killed in clashes with security forces in Baghdad and across the Shiite-majority south.

The protesters have demanded the resignation of the government and the overhaul of the political system put in place after the 2003 US-led invasion.

An elderly woman walks towards Tahrir Square during anti-government protests in Baghdad

In a prime-time address, the president expressed support for the protesters and their demands.

He said Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi is prepared to resign once political leaders agree on a replacement.

The process he laid out could take weeks or months, and it was unclear whether it would meet the demands of the protesters.

The demonstrators meanwhile clashed with security forces on a second bridge leading to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, with at least one person killed and more than 60 wounded.

Demonstrators have gathered in the Iraqi capital’s Tahrir Square since the protests resumed nearly a week ago and have repeatedly clashed with security forces on the Joumhouriya Bridge.

The clashes have now spread to the nearby Sanak Bridge, which also leads to the Green Zone, where the government has its headquarters.

Security and medical officials confirmed the latest casualties.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have joined the protests to vent their frustration at the political class.

The protests have been concentrated in Shiite-majority areas and directed at the Shiite-dominated government.

Iraq suffers from high unemployment and poor public services despite being an Opec member with the world’s fourth largest proven oil reserves.

The political system put in place after the 2003 US-led invasion has given rise to an entrenched political class even though the country regularly holds elections.

Protesters have been joined by supporters of an influential Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has called on the government to resign.

The demonstrations have snowballed into the biggest security challenge Iraq has faced since it declared victory over so-called Islamic State nearly two years ago.

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