Iraq's government removed the top military and police commanders in Basra on Wednesday, weeks after a botched crackdown on militia fighters there triggered the country's worst fighting in months.
Iraqi army Lieutenant-General Mohan al-Furaiji and police Major-General Abdul-Jalil Khalaf were among the country's most senior commanders and were widely respected by U.S. and British military leaders.
Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, no relation to the Basra commander, said the two were recalled to senior staff positions in Baghdad as a "reward for their successful mission against the criminals in Basra."
U.S. military spokesman Major-General Kevin Bergner said he had seen reports that the men had been replaced but declined to comment further, saying: "The change in leadership is one that I would defer to the government of Iraq to further characterize."
The two commanders were dispatched to Basra last year and won enthusiastic praise from U.S. and British brass for battling militia and fighting infiltration of their forces. Both survived numerous assassination attempts.
But their fate was widely seen as sealed after the crackdown in March failed to dislodge militia fighters loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr from the streets and triggered fighting that spread to other southern cities and Baghdad.