Iraq leaders scramble to respond to mounting rallies

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq’s leaders scrambled yesterday to produce a solution to mounting protests demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi that have so far left more than 250 dead.

Demonstrations first erupted on October 1 over corruption and unemployment and have since ballooned, with protesters now insisting on a government overhaul.

Their demands have been backed by populist cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose Parliamentary bloc Saeroon has been gathering support to force the premier to come in for questioning.

The lawmakers are set to meet yesterday for a fourth consecutive day as the executive branch, too, tried to find a political solution.

Yesterday, President Barham Saleh held closed-door talks on the premier’s ouster with Iraq’s main political figures, a source in the presidenti’s office said.

“Things are heading towards a resolution,” another senior Iraqi official told AFP.

But protesters appeared undeterred. Across the country’s Shiite-majority south, demonstrators came out in force yesterday despite efforts to quell them with curfews, tear gas or live fire.

The southern city of Diwaniyah saw its largest rallies yet: students, teachers, farmers and health workers hit the streets as government offices remained closed.