Iraq's parliament formally accepted the prime minister's resignation on Sunday, but the path to replacing Adil Abdul-Mahdi was clouded with legal questions that one lawmaker described as a "black hole in the constitution," which does not clearly spell out the next step.
Meanwhile, anti-government demonstrations went on in the capital, and one protester was shot dead. Demonstrators closed roads, including those leading to a major commodities port in southern Iraq. A special judicial body was formed to investigate demonstrator deaths.
Parliament approved the resignation without a vote, according to four lawmakers in attendance. Lawmakers acted on the legal opinion of the federal supreme court because existing laws do not provide clear procedures.
"According to the federal court's interpretation, there is no need to vote," lawmaker Sarkwat Shamsedine said during the session. Lawmaker Mohamed al-Daraji made the reference to a black hole in the law.
Following the approval, Parliament Speaker Mohamed a-Halbousi asked President Barham Salih to nominate a new prime minister. The constitution requires parliament's largest bloc to name a candidate for the premiership within 15 days. Then the prime minister-designate has 30 days to form a government.
Officials and experts warned of a potential political crisis because the question of which coalition constitutes the largest bloc is unresolved.
Abdul-Mahdi's nomination as prime minister was the product of a provisional alliance between parliament's two main blocs — Sairoon, led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, which includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units headed by Hadi al-Amiri.
In the May 2018 election, neither coalition won a commanding plurality that would have enabled it to name the premier alone. To avoid political crisis, Sairoon and Fatah forged a precarious union.
Salih began making rounds with different political blocs to reach a consensus, one lawmaker who requested anonymity in line with regulations said. Two Iraqi officials also said that Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force and the architect of its regional security apparatus, arrived in Baghdad and met with key officials.
"It is expected that not just Soleimani but other usual brokers of the prime minister candidate will be active from now on," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of regulations. "But for sure no candidate will go through without the blessing of Najaf."
Najaf is the seat of Iraq's Shiite religious authority.
The possibility of Sairoon and Fatah re-committing to an alliance over the selection of the premiership was "the strongest scenario," Shamsedine said.
In Baghdad's historic Rasheed Street, security forces fired live ammunition to prevent crowds from breaching concrete barriers near the Ahrar bridge that leads to parliament and other government buildings. One protester was killed and 10 wounded, according to security and medical officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hundreds of anti-government demonstrators, including students and teachers, also took to the streets in the southern oil-rich city of Basra. They donned black clothes to mourn protesters killed in Najaf and Dhi Qar provinces in recent days.
The investigative body was formed to hear cases from the city of Nasiriyah, which has seen the most fatalities due to live ammunition used by security forces in recent days. The body issued an arrest warrant against Lt. Gen. Jamil al-Shammari on charges of issuing orders that lead to the killing of demonstrators, according to Iraqi state TV.
Abdul-Mahdi recently withdrew al-Shammari from overseeing security matters in the southern city following the bloodshed.
Unlike elsewhere in Iraq, in Basra demonstrators have routinely targeted the country's economic interests.
Demonstrators staged a sit-in and cut roads to the West Qurna 1 oil field, operated by ExxonMobil. The field, among the country's largest, produces over 450,000 barrels of oil per day. A senior oil ministry official said the protests have not yet affected crude production.
Protesters continued to block roads to the country' main Gulf commodities port in Umm Qasr. Port officials previously said trade activity had been cut by 50 percent as a result.
At least 400 people have been killed since Oct. 1, when thousands took to the streets in mass protests in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite south.
In Baghdad, protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the movement, to reiterate calls for a complete overhaul of the sectarian political system. Hundreds of university students skipped classes to attend.
"First, we want a country. Second, we want all of them out. No one stays. They are all thieves," said a demonstrator who gave her name as Umm Zaynab, as protesters chanted anti-government slogans.
Iraqi officials say two protesters have been shot dead and at least 26 wounded in Baghdad and southern Iraq in continued unrest after Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced he intended to resign.
Iraq's Cabinet said in a statement it convened an emergency session Saturday to discuss Abdul-Mahdi's stepping down and approved the resignations of key staff. Experts said parliament must approve Abdul Mahdi's resignation for it to be valid.
Security and hospital officials say two protesters were killed and 15 wounded early Saturday by security forces who fired live rounds at them in the holy city of Najaf, in southern Iraq.
The officials said at least 11 protesters were wounded near Baghdad's Ahrar Bridge when security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
A website long associated with detained opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has quoted him as comparing a crackdown on protesters under Iran's supreme leader to another carried out under the country's ousted shah.
The comments published Saturday represent some of the harshest yet attributed to Mousavi, a 77-year-old politician whose disputed election loss in 2009 led to widespread protests before being put down by security forces.
The foreign website Kaleme quoted Mousavi as comparing the crackdown on gasoline price protesters under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to when soldiers of the shah opened fire on protesters in 1978, which fueled the unrest that led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, remain under house arrest in their home down an alleyway near Khamenei's official residence in Tehran.
Two soccer matches in Iran Professional League were canceled after the Iranian capital was cloaked in dangerously high levels of air pollution, Tehran Times daily reported on Saturday.
Persepolis match against Nassaji Mazandaran as well as Paykan match against Tractor, which were scheduled for Saturday, were postponed.
Severe air pollution has already forced authorities to close schools and universities in Iran's capital.
The Iranian navy on Saturday unveiled homegrown military hardware, Tasnim news agency reported.
One of the products, unveiled at an exhibition in Tehran by the Iranian Navy Commander Hossein Khanzadi, was a vertical takeoff and landing naval drone, named Pelican-2.
Equipped with four motors for vertical movement and a powerful propeller, the drone can take off from the cruising warships for patrol and reconnaissance missions.
The Iranian drone can even land and float on water in an emergency. The Iranian navy has deployed Pelican-2 on naval fleets in international waters.
Also, Iran displayed an Inertial Navigation System (INS) used for detection and navigation of submarines, where the conventional GPS system is not applicable.