South Korea to send 3,000 troops to Iraq starting August
Seoul | June 18
(AFP) – South Korea will start deploying some 3,000 troops to northern Iraq from August on a relief and rehabilitation mission, the Defense Ministry said.
The contingent of mostly non-combatants, the third largest in the US-led coalition in the war-torn country, will be based in Arbil, in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, the ministry said.
A 900-strong advance party will leave for Iraq in early August, followed by a 1,100-member main body of troops with a third group of 1,000 joining them later, ministry spokesman Nam Dai-Yeon told a briefing.
“The main party will arrive between late August and early September and the rest will arrive after the main party has settled down,” he said.
The announcement came a day after the ruling Uri Party endorsed the troop dispatch and followed a meeting of President Roh Moo-Hyun’s National Security Council called to hammer out final details of the deployment.
“The dispatch of additional troops to Iraq is aimed at supporting efforts for peace and rehabilitation in Iraq, cementing our alliance with the United States, and contributing to our national interest and world peace,” said Nam.
President Roh has championed the troop dispatch as a way of improving bilateral ties with the United States, strained over the North Korean nuclear standoff.
Though South Korea is sending fewer troops than the US requested and limiting their role to humanitarian rather than pacification work, the decision to dispatch troops, announced in November last year, has triggered pro- and anti- war demonstrations throughout the country.
Parliament endorsed the decision in February but attached strict conditions to the deployment, stipulating that it was for relief and reconstruction work only and would avoid combat.
Opposition mounted as the death toll in Iraq rose and following revelations concerning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers.
An opinion poll by the Hankook daily this week showed 57.5 percent of respondents were opposed to the dispatch, while 40 percent were in favor of it.
In a February poll by the same newspaper, more than 60 percent backed the plan.
A group of activists staged a rally earlier Friday in front of the presidential office in Seoul, condemning the troop dispatch as “a betrayal of the people and a criminal act.”
South Korea already has 660 army engineers and medics operating in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
They will also be moved to Arbil to join the main force who will bring up total numbers of South korean troops to more than 3,600, the largest coalition partner after the United States and Britain.
The sensitive deployment of South Korean troops was originally set for April but delayed amid the worsening security situation in Iraq.
Following parliamentary elections here in April which handed a majority to the reformist Uri Party, a minority of lawmakers have been calling for a repeal of the motion supporting the deployment.
South Korea had originally planned to start deploying troops to the northern town of Kirkuk but that was scrapped amid worsening security surrounding the oil-rich town that had become a magnet to insurgents opposed to US-led forces.
Two new venues were proposed by the United States, Sulaimaniyah and Arbil, and the later was selected following tours there of South Korean inspection missions which pushed the deployment beyond a second deadline set for June.
The defense ministry, announcing the final arrangements for the deployment, stressed the humanitarian aspect of the mission and said the South Korean soldiers, mainly non-combatants, would be lightly armed.
“We don’t want to cause unnecessary trouble with resistance forces there,” a ministry official added.