One of the most remarkable — and telling — parts of Iraqi President Barham Salih's interview with "Axios on HBO" was when he refused to predict whether Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, would still be in office in a week.

The big picture: Iraq has been reeling from anti-government protests, including one Friday and another in early October in which Iraqi security forces killed 149 people and wounded more than 3,000, according to an investigation by a government panel.

  • The demonstrators have been protesting against joblessness, poor public services and government corruption.
  • Per CNN, Mahdi has promised to reshuffle his cabinet and cut salaries across the board — including for Salih — but declared that "the resignation of the government today without providing a constitutional alternative would lead the country to chaos.''

In the interview — which took place on Monday, ahead of the Friday protests — Salih was clearly worried about what would happen and what the consequences could be for Mahdi.

When asked directly whether Mahdi would still be Iraq’s prime minister in a week, Salih dodged the question, saying only that “there is a lot of political support for him in Parliament about him staying on” and that he has promised a reform package.

  • Later, Salih acknowledged that he could not answer the question definitively.
  • “No, I can't,” he said. “These are important days. Let's hope that Friday's protests are handled properly — are handled in a way that will retain peace and stability in the country. I don't want to destabilize this situation any further, my friend.” 
  • When pushed, he finally said, “I do expect him to stay.”

Mahdi noted that Friday’s protest would be "quite a key test for the government and for the country" and that "there are measures to make sure that what happened the last time will not be repeated again."

  • Yet at least 60 protesters were killed around the country as the latest demonstrations continued into Saturday, per the New York Times.

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