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Ukraine begins Iraq withdrawal

    22 January 2021 Friday

    The first batch of Ukrainian troops arrived from Iraq on Tuesday, three days after the ex-Soviet republic began a gradual pullout that is to be complete by the end of the year, the Defense Ministry said.
    Two cargo aircraft that carried 137 servicemen from a mechanized company that was based near the Iraqi city of Suwayrah landed at an air base in Mykolaiv, 520 kilometers (320 miles) south of Kiev, the ministry said in a statement.

    Earlier this month, President Viktor Yushchenko and top defense officials ordered a phased pullout of Ukraine's 1,650-strong contingent from the U.S. coalition in Iraq.

    Officials had said 150 servicemen would return in the first phase, but the military later said the number was decreased to take into account "the dead, wounded and those who left Iraq due to family matters."

    Ukraine lost 18 soldiers in Iraq, and more than two dozen were wounded.

    Ukraine plans to withdraw another 550 soldiers from Iraq by May 15 and the rest by the end of the year, the Defense Ministry said.

    Earlier this month Yushchenko said that the pullout would be completed by Oct. 15, but Defense Minister Anatoly Gritsenko later said Ukraine might leave some troops in Iraq two months beyond that deadline.

    He suggested that an unspecified number of troops should remain behind as liaison and staff officers and military instructors after the withdrawal.

    Ukraine strongly opposed the U.S.-led war but later agreed to send a large contingent to serve under Polish command in central and southern Iraq.

    The deployment was widely seen as an effort by former President Leonid Kuchma to repair relations with Washington, frayed by allegations that he had approved the sale of radar systems to Saddam Hussein's regime in violation of U.N. sanctions.

    Ukraine's participation in the U.S.-led coalition is deeply unpopular here, but Yushchenko said that Ukraine should maintain a presence in Iraq and take part in development and reconstruction efforts there.

    Last year several Ukrainian companies were awarded with contracts to supply Iraqi military and development companies with weapons, equipment and vehicles.

    The military has begun training some 40 officers who will take part in training of the fledgling Iraqi army, the Defense Ministry said in a separate statement.

    Last week, Ukraine completed withdrawal of its peacekeeping contingent from Sierra Leone where it served under U.N. command since 2000.

    Ukrainian troops are currently serving with the NATO contingent in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo and in Georgia, Congo, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Liberia and the former Soviet republic of Moldova.

    Last year, Kuchma endorsed sending troops to take part in the U.N. observer mission in Syria's Golan Heights.


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