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Iraqi President Announces Sweeping Changes


Let's go now to Iraq, where protesters may have gotten what they wanted after more than a month of demonstrating. More than 200 people have been shot by security forces, and thousands have been wounded in these protests. And just now Iraq's president has announced that sweeping changes are coming. NPR's Jane Arraf has been following the protests and joins us now from Baghdad. Jane, tell us more about what the Iraqi president had to say.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, it was pretty dramatic. He promised early elections, which is something the protesters want. And it was the first official confirmation that the Iraqi prime minister will indeed step down. And he also addressed some of the more basic concerns. He said there would be a new election law that would allow young people to participate. Right now, you have to be 35 to be able to run for parliament. He said that the status quo was unacceptable, and that's probably the key thing that they wanted to hear.

But in between all the things he's promised, there are quite a lot of hurdles. There has to be a new law adopted. It's not clear whether the prime minister will step down immediately or whether he's waiting for a successor to be named. But this is a step forward, in the view of many people.

MARTIN: So we don't know yet if the prime minister's actually going to leave?

ARRAF: Well, he has committed to leaving. So he will indeed leave. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes bargaining, as you might imagine. The main demand, really, of protesters has been, let's sweep away this political system where we see the same old faces tied to religious parties, tied to special interests. And it's those special interests who are now in power who are fighting to stay in power.

So as soon as they come up with a replacement, it needs to be a replacement who's different. And that is kind of a tall order. So in the existing political classes, there's quite a lot of opposition to this. But the main thing is, this is the first confirmation that the Iraqi prime minister will be stepping down.

MARTIN: We should just note there is a delay on your line. But, Jane, do you think this is going to assuage the concerns of all the protesters?

ARRAF: That's a really tough one because in the - you know, in the last few days, in the past few weeks, what we've seen here is the demonstrators and the demonstrations widening. Not just in Baghdad, but in the south of Iraq. So it's not just people with limited demands. It's a whole group of people - women, teachers, fighters, all sorts of people who basically say let's build a new Iraq. Now, of course, that's a lot harder to do than it is to say. But it's not clear that these political reforms that the president is proposing will address a lot of what they want.

But really right now what the Iraqi government wants to do is diffuse the protests to make sure they don't grow, to make sure they don't get violent. Because more than 200 people have been - protesters have been killed by security forces. And there are fears that there could be counter-demonstrations and actual fighting.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's correspondent in Baghdad, Jane Arraf, covering these protests and this announcement out of Baghdad about the leadership change. Thank you so much, Jane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.