November 29, 2019 / 1:19 PM / 7 days ago

RPT-UPDATE 3-Iraq PM announces resignation after call from top Shi'ite cleric

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* Sistani calls on MPs to reassess support for gov’t

* Cabinet due to meet on Sunday to discuss crisis

* More than 400 killed in unrest

* Protests aimed at leaders seen as pawns of Iran

By John Davison

BAGHDAD, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation on Friday after the country’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric called for lawmakers to reconsider their support for a government rocked by weeks of deadly anti-establishment unrest.

“In response to this call, and in order to facilitate it as quickly as possible, I will present to parliament a demand (to accept) my resignation from the leadership of the current government,” a statement signed by Abdul Mahdi said.

The statement did not say when he would resign. Parliament is to convene an emergency session on Sunday to discuss the crisis.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani earlier urged parliament to considering withdrawing its support for Abdul Mahdi’s government to stem spiralling violence.

Security forces meanwhile shot dead at least three people in the southern city of Nassiriya as clashes continued.

Iraqi forces have killed nearly 400 mostly young, unarmed demonstrators people since mass anti-government protests broke out on Oct. 1. More than a dozen members of the security forces have also died in clashes.

The burning of Iran’s consulate in the holy city of Najaf on Wednesday escalated violence and drew a brutal response from security forces who shot dead more than 60 people nationwide on Thursday.

The unrest is Iraq’s biggest crisis for years. It pits protesters from Shi’ite heartlands in Baghdad and the south against a corrupt Shi’ite-dominated ruling elite seen as pawns of Iran.

‘CHAOS AND INFIGHTING’

Iraq’s current political class is drawn mainly from powerful Shi’ite politicians, clerics and paramilitary leaders including many who lived in exile before a U.S.-led invasion overthrew Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sistani, who only weighs in on politics in times of crisis and wields huge influence over public opinion, on Friday warned against an explosion of civil strife and tyranny. He urged government forces to stop killing protests and protesters themselves to reject all violence.

The government “appears to have been unable to deal with the events of the past two months ... parliament, from which the current government emerged, must reconsider its choices and do what’s in the interest of Iraq,” a representative of Sistani said in a televised sermon.

Protesters “must not allow peaceful demonstrations to be turned into attacks on property or people,” he said.

Wednesday’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Najaf set off a sharp escalation of violence.

On Thursday, security forces shot dead 46 people in another southern city, Nassiriya, 18 in Najaf and four in Baghdad bringing the death toll from weeks of unrest to at least 417, most of them unarmed protesters, according to a Reuters tally from medical and police sources.

Clashes between protesters and security forces broke out early on Friday in Nassiriya killing three people and wounding several others, hospital sources said.

Iraq’s “enemies and their apparatuses are trying to sow chaos and infighting to return the country to the age of dictatorship ... everyone must work together to thwart that opportunity,” Sistani said, without elaborating. (Reporting by John Davison, Baghdad newsroom, Editing by William Maclean)

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