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. Ukraine's defense minister to Iraq to pass Christmas with troops
KIEV (AFP) Jan 06, 2005
Ukraine's Defense Minister Olexander Kuzmuk left for Iraq Thursday to spend Orthodox Christmas with the 1,600 troops from Kiev stationed there as part of the US-led coalition, the ministry said.

Kuzmuk is due to meet with one of the American commanders, US General Thomas Metz upon arriving in Baghdad, the defense ministry said.

He will then travel to the two bases housing Ukrainian troops in the Shiite province of Wassit, where they have been deployed since August 2003 under Polish command.

Kuzmuk is due to spend Orthodox Christmas on January 7 with the soldiers, the ministry said.

In the heat of Ukraine's election saga in December, parliament approved a resolution that demanded outgoing President Leonid Kuchma withdraw Ukrainian soldiers from Iraq.

Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko, who won a rerun election to succeed Kuchma, has also come out in favor of a quick withdrawal of Ukrainian troops.

Some 48.3 percent of Ukrainians favor an immediate withdrawal of the soldiers, according to the last opinion poll published on the topic several months ago.

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