Iraq removes billboard of Russian leader Vladimir Putin in central Baghdad

Large picture of Russian president appeared in centre of Iraqi capital a few days after assault on Ukraine began

The billboard of Russian President Vladimir Putin in central Baghdad, which was removed hours after it went up. @RusEmbassyIraq / Twitter
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Iraq removed a large portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin in central Baghdad on Wednesday night – hours after it was unfurled.

Security forces quickly removed the picture after orders from Baghdad’s Operations Command, which is part of the Iraqi army.

Verified footage on social media showed at least one armed soldier ripping the portrait into pieces next to a few bystanders.

The sign delivered a message of support to Mr Putin in Russia's continuing assault on Ukraine.

“We support Russia,” read the message in Arabic, with a signature of “friends of the president”.

It remains unclear who ordered the sign, which was put up on Wednesday in the Jadriya neighbourhood. The space, on a street leading to Baghdad University, is near the headquarters of Iran-backed militia Asaib Ahl Al Haq.

Asaib is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department and is seen as a violent proxy for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which has also been sanctioned by Washington.

The Russian embassy posted the photo on its official Twitter page, saying in Russian: “On the streets of Baghdad”.

The portrait elicited an immediate reaction from Iraqis on social media.

"We aren't a party in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine or in any other conflict," Iraqi citizen Zein Al Tamim said on Twitter.

"We had enough of conflicts. I urge the government to hold accountable whomever put up this billboard in Baghdad. And to the one who raised it I would like to tell them stop being subordinate to another country. International conflicts are only about interests."

Iraq abstained from a US-led resolution to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

Iraq’s permanent representative to the UN, ambassador Mohammed Bahr AlUloom, said his country regretted the deterioration of the situation and the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

“Iraq has decided to abstain because of our historical background in Iraq and because of our sufferings resulting from the continuing wars against our peoples,” he said.

“Iraq expresses grave concern over the possibility for terrorists to exploit this crisis and the expected division in the international community. This would hinder international efforts and our joint endeavours aiming at preventing terrorism and violent extremism.”

The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution on condemning Russia’s assault, with the support of 141 countries out of 193.

Russia voted against the measure, joined by Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria.

Thirty-five countries abstained, including China, Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, Armenia and 16 African countries.

The vote was symbolic and is not legally binding, but adds more pressure on Russia.

Iraq and Russia have strong ties at the oil, military and security levels.

Major Russian oil companies Gazprom Neft and Lukoil are producing oil in southern Iraq, the country's centre of oil and gas production.

Iraq is the second-largest producer of crude oil in OPEC after Saudi Arabia. The US and EU have not yet imposed sanctions on Russia’s oil sector as part of the raft of punitive measures designed to hurt its economy and financial system.

Baghdad is also co-ordinating with Moscow in the fight against ISIS. In 2014, Iraq, Russia, Iran and Syria set up a security co-ordination committee a few months after the US established an international coalition in the war against the extremist group.

Updated: March 03, 2022, 11:02 AM