Did Iraq’s prime minister gamble on sidelining war hero?

Bracketed by high-level trips to Saudi Arabia and Iran the Prime Minister of Iraq sought to remove one of the country’s most famous soldiers.

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October 1, 2019 12:23
1 minute read.
Did Iraq’s prime minister gamble on sidelining war hero?

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq September 3, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

Bracketed by high-level trips to Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi sought to remove one of the country’s most famous soldiers, Lt.-Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saadi of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service. He may have gambled wrongly and gotten more pushback than he expected as Iraqis are now criticizing the decision and wondering what motivated it.

Saadi was deputy-chief of the CTS, the country’s most well-known military unit. It was the men of the CTS, in their black fatigues, that led the battle against ISIS and were at the tip of the spear going into such hard-fought battles as Mosul. They were considered professional fighters and honest soldiers, free from the sectarian abuses of the Shi’ite militias and other groups. Saadi was one of the most famous faces of the unit, a heroic commander who was known for his love of the common soldiers and civilians.

And yet, without any warning or ,the commander was apparently ordered transferred to a ministerial role, a decision he has called an insult and humiliation. He has been outspoken, breaking ranks and speaking to Iraqi media about the decision. This has led to questions about the politics behind the removal.

Some reports indicate that the Popular Mobilization Units, a group of mostly Shi’ite militias that also have a political party in parliament, might have lobbied for his dismissal. This leads to questions about Iran’s involvement and allegations that the PMU are seeking to become Iraq’s version of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reducing the army’s power and creating a separate armed force. Removing a key CTS commander might help pave the way for increased PMU power. Already the sectarian militias have rebranded themselves as an official force with government salaries and have also infiltrated the Federal Police, according to critics.

According to reports over the weekend, some senior politicians in Iraq are concerned. This includes Ammar al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr. What comes next remains to be seen.


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