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Ukraine to pull out troops from Iraq
Updated: 2005-03-02 08:50

Ukraine's top security body decided Tuesday to withdraw the nation's troops from Iraq, and officials said the pullout would start this month and be completed by October.

The National Security and Defense Council, headed by President Viktor Yushchenko, made the widely expected decision to withdraw Ukraine's 1,650-strong contingent.

Ukraine, which has lost 17 soldiers in Iraq, strongly opposed the U.S.-led war but later agreed to send a large contingent to serve under Polish command. The troop deployment was widely seen as an effort by then-President Leonid Kuchma to repair relations with Washington, frayed by allegations that he approved the sale of radar systems and other military equipment to Saddam Hussein in violation of U.N. sanctions.

The deployment in Iraq is deeply unpopular among Ukrainians, and one of Kuchma's last orders as president was to bring the troops home. In January, eight soldiers died in an explosion that Ukrainian defense officials described as a terrorist attack.

The pullout "will be completed by October 15," Yushchenko said. Defense Minister Anatoly Gritsenko told reporters that the phased withdrawal would begin on March 15, and that 150 soldiers would leave Iraq in the first group.

"The second batch will have about 590 soldiers and the third the remainder," Yushchenko said.

The council, which also included the foreign, defense and interior ministers and other top officials, decided to order the pullout "after detailed consideration," Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said, according to the Interfax news agency.

"The president announced this long ago, and apart from that there are two parliamentary resolutions on it," Tarasyuk said. Last year, parliament issued two nonbinding resolutions urging Kuchma to order the pullout.

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