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Iraq removes commander credited with the victory over Daesh, sparking protests

Security forces ban unveiling General Saadi's statue in Mosul. One reason behind his removal. [Salah Al Nasarwi/Twitter]

Dozens of Iraqi demonstrators gathered in the capital Baghdad on Saturday, following the government’s decision to remove Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi from his post as commander of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Forces (ICTS).

The move made the day before, saw the “national hero” – who was largely credited in being instrumental in the defeat of Daesh in Mosul in 2017 – transferred to the Defence Ministry. No reason was given for the decision.

Al-Saadi described the demotion as a “humiliation to my military history”, in an interview with Iraqi TV channel iNews. “I received the decision with huge surprise, and I consider this decision as punishment and of course humiliating,” he said, adding that he refuses to end his military career in this way.

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The ground commander was notable in leading the liberation of the first oil refineries from Deash in Baiji city in 2015. He also led Iraqi forces during liberation operations in Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi and Tikrit.

Elsewhere, images circulated on social media of a statue dedicated to Al-Saadi being veiled by local authorities and according to AlSumaira news, riot police surrounded the statue yesterday in order to prevent protestors seeking to unveil it.

Al-Saadi’s relegation is perceived by some to be politically motivated, with the powerful Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) seen as playing a role.

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Political commentator Ghaleb Al-Shabandar said the move was “the beginning of the Iraqi army’s dismantling and handover to the Hashed and other armed groups.”

Al-Saadi, who enjoys close relations with US military advisers and trainers and has a “neutral ideology”, may have been removed for not having a favourable view of the Iranian backed paramilitaries.

Lawmaker Khaled Al-Obeidi, Iraq’s former defense minister, said parliament would look into the reasons behind the decision to remove Al-Saadi.

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