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Thousands Protest in Iraq Ahead of Deadline to Name New PM

Anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 22, 2019.
Anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 22, 2019.

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Sunday ahead of a midnight deadline to name an interim prime minister.

Anti-government rallies have rocked Baghdad and the Shi'ite-majority South since October, protesting against corruption, poor services, and a lack of jobs. Protesters have called for an end to the political system imposed after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's resigned Friday. President Barham Salih and parliament have since missed several deadlines to appoint a new prime minister. Mahdi and his government had agreed to stay on in a caretaker role until a new prime minister is approved.

But Mahdi's resignation failed to satisfy anti-government protesters who have said it is not enough for a new prime minister to take over — they are demanding changes to the entire political system, which they call corrupt, inept, and say it does little to help impoverished Iraqis despite the nation’s oil wealth.

Protesters on Sunday decried the likely pick for the new interim prime minister, former higher education minister Qusay al-Suhail, who is opposed by critics for his ties to Iran. Demonstrators categorically reject his candidacy along with any other potential contenders who have been part of the government since 2003.

At least 460 people have died and tens of thousands of others have been wounded since the demonstrations erupted in October in Baghdad and in Shi'ite-majority areas in southern Iraq.

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