BAGHDAD: Iraqi protesters stepped up their demonstrations on Tuesday with the authorities in Baghdad increasingly paralysed as they seek a way out of a political impasse.
Once again the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square began filling early in the day, with protesters making clear their opposition to names touted by the establishment to fill the post of prime minister.
Portrait pictures of these candidates — marked by a huge red cross — increasingly adorn facades of buildings and tents in the protest area.
And once again the main avenues and roads in cities in the south of the country were blocked, as well as entrances to schools, universities and government buildings.
After dwindling in recent weeks, the civil disobedience campaign has rediscovered its vigour, as the protesters seek to uproot a political system condemned as deeply corrupt.
Negotiations over a candidate to replace premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who quit in November in the face of protests against corruption and unemployment, have remained deadlocked since the latest in a series of deadlines expired at midnight on Sunday.
A long promised economic revival in OPEC’s number two oil producer never came, protesters say, with more than half of all oil revenues syphoned off by crooked politicians and their cronies. Rallies have continued despite a campaign of intimidation that has included targeted killings and abductions of activists, which the United Nations blames on militias.
Politicians have been desperately trying to agree on who will be the next prime minister. But unable to find a parliamentary majority, time is running out.
The timetable set out in the constitution has already been overshot. Parliament failed to meet as planned on Monday as there was no quorum.
“Every hour they come up with a new candidate, but we want someone who is independent,” said one young demonstrator, standing in front of burning tyres on a road into Basra.
“We’re ready to continue the general strike, a day, two days, three days… even a hundred years if that’s what it takes,” he added, his face covered by a scarf to keep out the acrid smoke.
Roads to Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah and Hilla in the south were also cut as well as in Kut and the city of Najaf, as strikers stopped government officials from reaching work and closed the doors to schools.
After “all the sacrifices” with close to 460 dead since the start of the demonstrations in early October and 25,000 wounded, the protesters say they will not return home “until all their goals are met”.
They are demanding a new constitution, a new electoral law and a complete overhaul of the political system, in a country with crippling unemployment, especially among the young people who make up more than half the population.