Iraq's parliament approves resignation of prime minister, protesters cry dead

BAGHDAD: Iraq Parliament approved the resignation of the cabinet in conflict on Sunday, after two months of violent riots that left more than 420 people dead and thousands of people crying in the marches nationwide.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said Friday that he would submit his resignation to parliament after an increase in the death toll among protesters who accuse the entire ruling elite of being inept, corrupt and committed to foreign powers.

The demonstrations spread from its epicenter in Baghdad and mostly southward to the northern Sunni city of Mosul , where hundreds of students dressed in black organized a march of mourning for fallen activists.

Parliament opened its session on Sunday afternoon and in a matter of minutes approved the resignation of Abdel Mahdi, who according to the constitution turns him and the entire cabinet into a provisional government.

The president of parliament said he would now ask President Barham Saleh to name a new prime minister.

Just before the session began, another protester was shot dead in the capital, medical sources said.

The protest movement is Iraq 's biggest since the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein and installed a democratic system in the nation rich in oil but full of poverty.

The demonstrators have vented their anger at neighbouring Iran, which is seen to wield huge influence in Iraq , with protesters last week burning down an Iranian consulate.

Abdel Mahdi should leave, as well as Parliament and parties, and Iran, said a young protester in Tahrir Square (Liberation) in Baghdad, the center of the protest movement that began in early October.

In other developments, an Iraq i court sentenced a police officer to death on Sunday after convicting him of killing demonstrators, the first such sentence in two months of deadly civil unrest.

The Kut criminal court sentenced the police commander to be hanged and imprisoned a lieutenant police colonel for seven years for his role in the death of seven protesters in the southern city on November 2, judicial sources said.

In Mosul, protesters were marching in solidarity with activists elsewhere in the country.

It's the least Mosul can give to the martyrs of Dhi Qar and Najaf, said Zahraa Ahmed, a dentistry student, naming the two provinces where most of the recent deaths took place.

Protesters are asking for their basic rights, so the government should have responded from the beginning.

Previously, most Sunni-majority areas had refrained from protesting, fearing that opposing the central government would earn them the labels of being terrorists or supporters of Saddam Hussein.

For three years, Mosul was the heart of the Islamic State group's ultra-conservative caliphate, and much of it still lies in ruins today.

Another student in Mosul , Hussein Kheder, carrying an Iraq i flag, said the whole country was now on the same page politically and told AFP that "now the government needs to heed the protesters' demands".

In Salaheddin, a province of Sunni majority in northern Baghdad, where demonstrations were held for the first time, the authorities had already declared three days of mourning on Friday for the victims.

And eight Shiite-majority provinces announced a day of mourning on Sunday during which government offices would remain closed.

More than 20 people were killed in the Shiite sanctuary city of Najaf, 40 people at the access point and three in the capital Baghdad on three consecutive days of violence.

On Sunday, an AFP correspondent reported calm in Nasiriyah, the birthplace of Abdel Mahdi, who came to power only a year ago based on an unstable alliance between rival parties.

He had resisted protesters' calls to resign in the last two months.

But the crackdown turned the tide this week, as it prompted Iraq 's Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to call on parliament to drop its support for the premier.

In rapid succession, political factions indicated that they would support a motion of distrust.