S. Korea to become second-largest military ally in Iraq

Friday, April 9, 2004

South Korea has decided to become a major contributor to the U.S.-led military effort to stabilize Iraq despite the recent abduction of Korean nationals by insurgents.

South Korea will deploy more than 3,700 soldiers in Iraq by August, officials said. They said the soldiers would be deployed in northern Iraq, either in Irbil or Suleimaniya.

The commitment by Seoul will make South Korea the third largest contributor of military troops to Iraq. Britain and the United States have been the leading contributors.

Officials said the first South Korean contingent will arrive in Iraq in June despite the abduction of South Korean nationals by Sh'ite insurgents, Middle East Newsline reported.

They said the Korean Joint Staff has been working closely with U.S. Central Command to determine the location of deployment and that a delegation would leave for northern Iraq on Friday.

Most of the Korean force will not be composed of combat units, officials said. Instead, the force will focus on logistics that can be used for reconstruction tasks in Iraq.

"It is a mixture of logistics types," U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michael Finnegan, the South Korea country director in the Defense Department, said. "The unit will contain engineers, medics, truck drivers and other reconstruction skills. But the unit will also contain security and civil affairs personnel."

So far, Korea has 500 soldiers deployed in Nasseriya south of Baghdad. Most of the troops are engineers and medical personnel and they will join the new force in the north.

Officials said this was not South Korea's first mission in the Middle East. South Korea has contributed forces to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the disputed region of Western Sahara.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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