Ukraine Seeks Civil Role in Iraq After Troops Leave

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine will continue to play a civilian role in the reconstruction of Iraq after the last of its 1,600 troops leave later this year, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said on Wednesday.

Ukraine was one of the biggest troop contributors to the U.S.-led effort to stabilise Iraq after Saddam Hussein's 2003 removal from power. But former President Leonid Kuchma's decision to deploy them was deeply unpopular.

"We will transform our presence into a non-military presence, having in mind cooperation on such projects as water supply, transportation, the oil and gas industry, the areas where Ukrainians have been known for decades in Iraq," Tarasyuk told reporters at an international conference on Iraq.

"The Ukrainian troops were sent to Iraq by the Kuchma authorities and it was not accepted by society," he said, adding that President Viktor Yushchenko had campaigned on a promise to withdraw Ukrainian troops.

The first 150 troops left on March 15, with another 500 following on May 15, he said. The rest will leave by the end of the year.

"We consulted with our major allies in Iraq, that is the United States, Poland, the United Kingdom and the Iraqi government. And we found full understanding of this step. So there is no drama in our withdrawal."

But he said Ukraine would continue to participate in the NATO mission in Iraq training the military and police.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari will visit Kiev at the end of July, and Tarasyuk said the Ukrainian government and businesses hoped to win reconstruction contracts from the Iraqi government.

He said cash-strapped Ukrainian companies should team up with wealthier foreign firms to win business.

"We are capable of winning contracts concerning restoration of communal services, water supply, road construction, electricity supply, oil and gas," he said. "These are the areas where Ukrainians are quite competitive."

Source: Reuters