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Tue, December 23, 2003

S.Korea to Send 3,000 Troops to Iraq in April

South Korean riot police block anti-war protesters marching toward the National Assembly hall, in Seoul, Dec. 23, 2003.
Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
Dec. 23 SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is to send 3,000 troops to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk in late April to help reconstruction efforts, cabinet and military officials said Tuesday.

South Korea's cabinet approved a motion for the dispatch of the troops at a special session Tuesday and would now send it to parliament for ratification, officials said.

The mix of construction troops and armed soldiers to protect them would be in addition to the 675 medical and engineering personnel already serving in Iraq, raising Seoul's total military deployment to about 3,700.

Seoul had long favored Kirkuk, Iraq's northern oil hub, for its good infrastructure and relative stability and safety from the attacks that have killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers since formal hostilities ended in May.

"Our demands and those of the United States were in accord," said National Security Adviser Ra Jong-yil, referring to the visit by a South Korean delegation to Washington last week to finalize deployment details.

Lt General Kim Jang-su, who headed the mission, told reporters it would take about 16 weeks to assemble, train and transport the 3,000 troops.

He said they would take charge of an area around Kirkuk until the end of 2004, replacing the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade. The new soldiers would be joined by the 675 South Korean engineering and medical troops who have been based near Nassiriya since May.

The South Korean troops already in Iraq have served without incident. But two South Korean civilian electricians were killed in central Iraq last month, prompting their private company to withdraw its staff of 60.

President Roh Moo-hyun's decision to commit troops to Iraq sparked large street protests in South Korea. Politically, the strongest opposition to a South Korean deployment to Iraq has come from the party closest to Roh, the left-of-center Uri Party.

The National Assembly is controlled by the conservative Grand National Party, which is Roh's bitter foe, but has supported plans to sending South Korean troops to Iraq.

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