In the face of continuing massive protests in Iraq with dozens of deaths, an influential Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has called on the government to step down, in order to avoid further bloodshed, the government must resign and early elections under UN supervision would have to take place, al-Sadr wrote in a letter published on Friday.
Al-Sadr is an influential cleric and politician, his party belongs to the governing coalition. As the country’s first clerical dignitary, he had already backed the protest movement on Wednesday and called for peaceful sit-ins.
According to government sources, the number of deaths in the protests rose to at least 60. In the capital Baghdad alone, at least 18 people have been killed since the protests began on Tuesday, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said Saturday night. In addition, more than 1,600 people were injured in Baghdad and the south of the country.
The 18 dead in Baghdad were counted in a local hospital, said the Human Rights Commission. From which parts of the country the victims came first, still unclear, nor did the agency say whether the dead were civilians or members of the security forces.
The protests are directed against widespread corruption, chronic blackouts and high unemployment. The demonstrators challenge the government of Abdul Mahdi, who took office less than a year ago. Unlike previous demonstrations, the protests seem to be spontaneous without any party behind them.