Protests continue in southern Iraq, reject lead PM candidate

Protesters chanted slogans rejecting the candidacy of Qusay al-Suhail for the post of prime minister and threatened further escalation.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Protesters in several southern Iraqi cities cut off key roads linking to the capital of Baghdad as widespread demonstrations continue calling for an end to rule by the political elite in a country wracked by years of corruption.

In Nasiriyah – which has seen much turmoil since protests began in October – demonstrators stopped traffic across most of the city’s major bridges, with local authorities announcing a holiday for public servants.

The city of Nasiriyah is divided by the Tigris River.

Protesters chanted slogans rejecting the candidacy of Qusay al-Suhail for the post of prime minister and threatened further escalation should it come to pass. Demonstrators have long lamented what they see as foreign intervention in Iraqi affairs and see Suhail as Iran’s pick for the premiership.

Students also partook in the Nasiriyah sit-in square demonstrations, chanting: “No work until the regime falls.”

On Saturday, the self-proclaimed largest parliamentary bloc, the Iranian-allied al-Bina Coalition, said it had submitted its candidate for the premiership. The alliance’s pick is most likely Suhail, who is currently the education minister.

This comes three weeks after Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi stepped down from his position amid mounting pressure from protesters. Abdul Mahdi said he arrived at his decision after a sermon by the country’s top Shia cleric, Ali al-Sistani, who called for a change in leadership.

Bina’s leading contender in influence and size in the national legislature, the Muqtada al-Sadr–led Islah Alliance, has rejected Suhail’s potential candidacy as well, with Sadr himself calling for an independent nominee for the role.

Nasiriyah has been the site of one of the deadliest days of protests and assassinations and abductions of demonstrators. On Friday, unidentified gunmen shot and killed an activist, which enraged protesters who marched to multiple party offices widely seen as allies of Iran and torched them.

In Muthanna, protesters crossed the main streets of the city of Kut and forced employees and students to return to their homes, demanding that a general strike continue. Demonstrators also shut the main gate of Muthanna University in the city of Samawah.

In Basra province, witnesses told Kurdistan 24 that demonstrators closed a number of the Basra city’s roads by burning tires. In response, local authorities deployed several detachments of riot police to the streets and opened several closed roads.

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Sunday marks the constitutional deadline for Iraqi President Barham Salih to name parliament’s preferred candidate for prime minister to succeed Abdul Mahdi.

So far, nearly 500 have reportedly been killed in the protests, mostly peaceful protestors by security forces or Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and well over 27,000 wounded. Many have been killed after riot police have used live rounds or have fired military-grade tear gas canisters directly into crowds.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany