Minor protests were reported Monday in parts of the capital, Baghdad, and elsewhere across the country, as Iraq's political leaders tried to head off further bloody clashes between security forces and crowds of mostly young demonstrators.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he was pulling military units out of Baghdad's mostly Shi'ite Sadr City and replacing them with units of the country's national police, after over a dozen demonstrators were killed during the past 48 hours.
Mahdi called on protesters to discuss their demands, saying that the country's leaders are ready to talk to those who represent them if they come forward. He said his government is discussing demands that it has received, and that he is ready to talk to the protesters himself, unarmed.
Some of Iraq's top Shi'ite political leaders are claiming that demonstrations are being incited by forces outside the country. Falah Fayyad, who heads the country's Shi'ite volunteer militia called the Hushd al-Shaabi, told journalists that the Iraqi government would not tolerate any forces playing with the country's security.
"We will not allow anyone to spill the blood of our young people or to destroy our democratic process," he said. Iraq can only be governed by the ballot boxes and any uprisings using force will not tolerated, he said, adding that his militia will support the country's constitution and its elected prime minister.
Arab media reported that pro-Iranian Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr is calling on Mahdi to step down and for new parliamentary elections to be held under international supervision. Sunni Parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi, however, insisted that his goal is to diffuse the current crisis.
He said that he is working with the prime minister and the president, and that despite minor differences, there is agreement over the broad political outlines of what needs to be done.
Young people are "looking for jobs, a place to live, and a brighter future," Halbousi said, adding that these issues must be addressed quickly, "or a new and bloodier uprising will take place."
Many protesters have expressed frustration over what they complain is endemic government corruption.
One young man, interviewed by Iraqi media during recent protests, insisted that "we want a nation, run by honorable people. Our nation is ill, and it is run by dishonorable people."