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Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abdul-Jabar Saleh, center, talks with 4th Iraqi Army Division commander, Maj. Gen. Salahdin Mustafa Kamal, left, Tuesday after Saleh was replaced as commander of 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division. Saleh was replaced by Brig. Gen. Mu’ayed Noradin, right.
Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abdul-Jabar Saleh, center, talks with 4th Iraqi Army Division commander, Maj. Gen. Salahdin Mustafa Kamal, left, Tuesday after Saleh was replaced as commander of 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division. Saleh was replaced by Brig. Gen. Mu’ayed Noradin, right. (Drew Brown / S&S)

TIKRIT, Iraq — One of northern Iraq’s longest-serving army brigade commanders was reassigned Tuesday, prompting concern among U.S. military advisers that progress they’ve made in training Iraqi forces here would suffer.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abdul-Jabar Saleh, commander of 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division, was replaced by Brig. Gen. Mu’ayed Noradin.

Maj. Gen. Salahdin Mustafa Kamal, 4th Iraqi Army Division commander, lauded Saleh’s achievements, saying that Tikrit and its environs were much safer now than when Saleh took command more than three years ago.

However, he said it was time for new leadership in the 1st Brigade. The typical assignment for that position in the Iraqi army is one or two years.

Saleh had fought his transfer to a division staff job for months, and had previously refused to vacate his post when ordered to do so, according to U.S. officers with the 0411 Military Transition Team, a group of advisers working with 1st Brigade.

However, by Tuesday, when Kamal showed up in person to oversee the transfer of authority, it was clear that Saleh had accepted his reassignment to the staff job.

Saleh told a group of assembled officers, “what I request from ... (Noradin) is that he can complete what I couldn’t finish.”

Saleh, known as “General A.J.,” was popular with U.S. advisers and known by those who served alongside him as a highly capable officer. His departure has raised some concerns that progress U.S. advisers have made in building up the 4th Division’s 1st Brigade would suffer.

“You need continuity,” said Staff Sgt. David Wotila, 31, a medic from San Diego. “We’re midway through (our tour). Depending on who we get, the progress we’ve made so far could be taking a step backwards. With Gen. A.J. leaving, it feels like something is dying right now.”

Maj. Mick Chang, the 0411 MiTT’s operations officer, said the change in leadership would “set us back at least three weeks” as the two sides learn how to work together.

But Chang, 44, of Honolulu, said the team would continue to move forward with its mission.

“We’re not going to dwell on it,” he said. “If the Iraqis want to dwell on it, that’s fine. But we’re going to move forward with the future.”

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