Georgia to send 500 more troops to Iraq by summer 2004: US envoy
TBILISI (AFP) Dec 13, 2003
Georgia is to send 500 soldiers to Iraq by next summer to join 70 elite troops, doctors and mine-clearing experts who were sent to Baghdad in August, the US ambassador to Tbilisi, Richard Miles, said Saturday.

Two hundred soldiers will fly out shortly, and by summer 2004 some 500 will have joined the first contingent, Miles said during a graduate ceremony for a Georgian batallion trained by US instructors under Washington's 64-million-dollar Train and Equip programme for the Georgian armed forces.

The Georgian government is paying the salaries of 400-600 dollars a month for the soldiers who flew out on August 3 for a six-month mission as part of an international task force in Iraq and who are now stationed in the town of Tikrit.

The United States is footing the bill for their uniforms, weapons and other expenses.

Miles thanked the leadership in Tbilisi for the contribution of the Georgian troops in Iraq.

In a reference to the ousting of Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, who resigned on November 23 following a wave of protests at rigged parliamentary elections, he told the new graduates they represented "the high Georgian spirit ... that refuses to tolerate corruption and injustice."

However Georgia's acting president Nino Burjanadze, who also attended the ceremony, paid tribute to Shevardnadze for his role in calling in US military instructors to train the Georgian army.

"We must not forget the services of president Eduard Shevardnadze who did much to bring this programme about and for reform as a whole," she said.

New presidential elections have been set in Georgia for January 4.

The group which graduated Saturday was the last of four battalions of Georgian commandos to receive US training.

In the next stage, a mechanised unit is to be trained up over the next three months, Miles said.

More than 2,000 Georgian servicemen have received training under the Train and Equip programme which was launched in May 2002 and is to continue until the end of 2004.