Amid weeks-long anti-government protests, Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Thursday that Mahdi agreed to resign once a replacement was found. The Iraqi leader also vowed to hold a snap election after a new election law was enacted.
The news came after influential Shiite politician Muqtada Sadr, one of the leaders of the Sairoon parliamentary bloc, pushed for a no-confidence vote in the government, joining protests. Meanwhile, it was him and his rival Hadi Amiri, the leader of the Iran-backed Badr Organisation, who agreed on Mahdi as a compromise figure for prime minister a year ago.
Yet, in early October, a year after the current government took office following the May elections, rallies started across the country. People demand the ouster of the cabinet, as well as economic reforms, better living conditions, social welfare and an end to corruption. Protests quickly turned violent, leaving more than 250 people killed and hundreds more injured.
No Quick Fixes Exist
Experts agree that one should not expect that the prime minister's resignation would bring about any fundamental change since the root cause of the instability is the country's economy, coupled with the flawed political system.
"The resignation of the Prime Minister is unlikely to reverse the situation, as the whole economic and political system is rotten with no prospect of meaningful improvement", Rodney Wilson, an emeritus professor of economics at Durham University, said.
The economy, the expert says, "continues to be mismanaged" while "the standard of living for the majority of the population has continued to decline", despite Iraq's enormous oil reserves.
"Much oil revenue is corruptly appropriated and inequalities are becoming worse … Unemployment remains high, and many aspire to jobs in the public sector which are usually allocated on the basis of political connections and tribal loyalties", Wilson explained.
An election early in 2020, according to him, "may bring a change of faces" but is unlikely to result in policy changes as the economic problems are fundamental and "there are no quick fixes". The expert also noted that it was unclear what normalisation could mean in an Iraqi context, stressing that the country had moved "from crisis to crisis" since independence.
Zenonas Tziarras, a researcher at the PRIO Cyprus Center, similarly believes that Mahdi's resignation is an attempt to appease the masses but in reality, could calm them only for the time being.
"If the post-Mahdi political order does not deliver what the people are protesting for (e.g. constitutional amendments, impartial elections, eradication of corruption, employment and proper public services), demonstrations and political violence is likely to persist", he said.
Implications for Iran Influence
Another aspect of the current instability in Iraq is the consequences it will have on Shiite Iran's influence in the country.
According to Tziarras, the political turmoil and snap elections could weaken pro-Iranian/Shiite powers, such as the Badr Organisation led by Amiri, which makes Tehran interested in the country maintaining the political status quo.
"By extension, this would also mean that the Shiite militia groups of the Popular Mobilisation Unites (PMU) could also face the scenario of dissolution, which would be a great blow to Iran's foothold in Iraq. For these reasons, we should that Iran and the shiite forces in Iraq will go at great lengths to preserve the status quo", he suggested.
Wilson agreed that "the protests are unwelcome in Iran which has enough problems itself resulting from United States sanctions", doubting, however, that Iran's influence would be undermined.
The expert explained that religious affiliation matters were very important in the region, with all players accepting that. After all, he stressed, the protests in Iraq and Lebanon are "against the two Arab governments, and not Iran".