Armenia to Deploy 46 Troops to Iraq

YEREVAN (AP)–Armenia’s parliament voted Friday to send 46 non-combat troops to Iraq–a move that was backed by President Robert Kocharian but drew sharp criticism from many Armenia’s and opposition groups.

After more than seven hours of debate behind closed doors–lawmakers in the National Assembly voted 91-23–with one abstention–to send the contingent–which will include bomb-disposal experts–doctors–and transport specialists. Only two parliamentary factions–the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)–a member of the government coalition–and the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance voted against it.

The troops could be deployed to Iraq as early as next month and could serve in Iraq for up to a year–said Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian–adding that the contingent would only conduct humanitarian operations.

"There is not–and will not be an Armenian military presence in Iraq," Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said. "In the humanitarian aspect–it is preferable for Armenia to contribute to the postwar reconstruction of Iraq–in establishing democracy in this country which has important significance for the region and which could have an impact on the Caucasus."

The troops would serve as part of the Polish-led multinational force–officials said. That force operates in a belt of territory south of Baghdad–though Armenia has not specified where its troops will deploy.

The Constitutional Court ruled earlier this month that Kocharian’s plan to send non-combat troops to Iraq did not violate the country’s constitution.

But the proposal had been widely criticized by opposition parties–many Armenia’s and even the 30,000-strong Armenian community in Iraq–which feared being targeted for attacks if the troops were sent.

In August–an Armenian Apostolic church in Baghdad was hit in a wave of attacks on Iraq’s minority Christians that that killed 11 people and injured more than 50.

Other former Soviet republics that have also sent troops to Iraq are Azerbaijan–Georgia–Ukraine–and the three Baltic countries.

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