For weeks, anti-government demonstrations have filled the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, with protesters calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Now, it appears they are about to get their wish: Iraqi President Barham Salih announced Thursday that the premier has agreed to step down and called for early elections.
"The prime minister had previously agreed to submit his resignation," Salih said in a live address, according to a translation by Reuters, "if the blocs agree on an acceptable replacement in order to adhere to constitutional and legal frameworks."
It remains unclear if Abdul-Mahdi plans to step down immediately or if he will wait until his successor is named.
But Salih made clear that the status quo cannot stand — adding a promise to pursue a new election law allowing younger people, under the currently mandated age of 35, to run for seats in parliament.
The decision is sure to cheer protesters, who in recent weeks have gathered in the hundreds of thousands to demand change that begins with the prime minister but certainly does not end there. They have called for a widespread overhaul of the government, condemning the country's rampant unemployment and violence and a political class they see as corrupt, cruel or utterly inept.
For many demonstrators, the years since Saddam Hussein was toppled after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have been little more than a catalog of indignities.
"Nothing happened very good for the people. Everything is bad," Hala Chalabi, a demonstrator and widowed mother, told NPR earlier this week. "Killing, stealing — it's about all the government. They are all of them bad and the same thing. No one thinks about the Iraqi people, what they want, what they dream. We have no dreams, you know? No dreams."
Amid the unrest, Iraqi security forces have clashed frequently with the protesters. Last week, a government-appointed investigation found that those forces had killed roughly 150 people and injured thousands more in their attempts to disperse the protests since the start of the month. since that report's release, the death toll has continued to swell upward of 200.
NPR's Middle East correspondent Jane Arraf contributed to this report.