Washington briefing: U.S.-led coalition members pull troops out of Iraq
Published: Saturday November 15, 2008
With the twilight of the George W. Bush administration and with President-elect Barack Obama having pledged a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, most of the remaining members of the so-called Coalition of the Willing are no longer willing to stay in Iraq.
Since 2003 the coalition had included troops from the three former Soviet republics in the Caucasus, as well as Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine, and the three Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are now members of NATO. Most of these troops have already withdrawn, with 37 Estonians and 20 Moldovans due out by the end of the year.
Azerbaijan became the latest former Soviet republic to announce a pullout, with its president issuing instructions to that effect shortly after the U.S. election. Initially at 150, the Azerbaijani unit currently numbers 88 personnel that have served as security guards at a hydroelectric plant.
Although Azerbaijani forces were not reported to have taken part in operations outside the dam perimeter, they did suffer at least one soldier killed last June in apparent fratricide.
Armenia pulled its 46-person unit from near the town of Kut, on the Iraqi-Iranian border, last month. The pullout was timed to the withdrawal of the Polish forces, under whose command Armenians served. (Poland participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in five years Polish forces lost 21 soldiers, with 70 others wounded, according to U.S. military records cited by AFP.)
The Armenian unit was involved in demining, medical rescue, and logistics operations, suffering one officer seriously wounded in combat. That officer, Sr. Lt. Georgi Nalbandian, has since recovered and returned to active duty with the Armenian armed forces.
Georgia, which earlier this year increased its presence in Iraq to nearly 2,000 soldiers, pulled most of them out during the war with Russia in August with the remainder returning home since then.
Georgians had served in Baghdad and northern Iraq and were due to take over the Polish-led division before their deployment was cut short. Through June 2008, five Georgian soldiers died (three from hostile action, one in an accident, and one in an apparent suicide) and 18 others were wounded.
Ukraine, which in 2003 deployed more than 1,600 of its soldiers in Iraq, pulled out in 2005 after losing 18 soldiers in various incidents. Several dozen Ukrainian officers remain in Iraq as part of NATO advisory mission to the Iraqi government.
And finally Kazakhstan, another former Soviet republic, also withdrew its 29-person unit of deminers and medics last month. Kazakhstan, like Armenia, is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization led by Russia, which openly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
But subsequently, Russia dropped objections to U.S. military presence in Iraq. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that Russia would support a renewed United Nations mandate for the American military presence in Iraq.
The current five-year mandate is about to expire and the Bush administration has not succeeded in negotiating a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government that would keep U.S. forces in the country via bilateral agreement.