ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Wednesday ordered the withdrawal of the Iraqi counter-terrorism unit from the city of Kirkuk, replacing them with special forces members as the country continues to deal with remaining Islamic State sleeper cells.
The counter-terrorism forces took over as Kirkuk’s security apparatus in late 2017 after the Iraqi army along with Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias advanced on the province and other disputed territories.
As a result, Kurdish Peshmerga forces vacated areas where they had been stationed since 2014 following the emergence of the Islamic State.
Then Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s move came in response to the Kurdistan Region’s bid for independence in September 2017, which saw an overwhelming majority vote for secession.
The current Commander in Chief’s decision comes within the framework of counter-terrorism forces having been tasked with tracking Islamic State sleeper cells, which have maintained an insurgency in the country, especially in contested areas.
The Counter-Terrorism Agency in a statement said that Abdul-Mahdi had agreed, “as part of the continuous movement of detachments,” to deploy the 61st brigade of the special squad to replace the counter-terrorism units in Kirkuk.
The special squad, led by Lieutenant General Karim Abboud al-Tamimi, is a unit linked to the prime minister and was protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad.
The Interior Ministry in its own statement noted that this special forces brigade was “now conducting extensive reconnaissance in the province” of Kirkuk to prepare for their deployment.
The special forces and the counter-terrorism units have been involved in many battles against the Islamic State, most notably that of the liberation of Mosul, the terrorist organization’s self-declared capital in Iraq.
Editing by Nadia Riva