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Georgia to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq

A military Humvee displaying the Georgian flag drives along a road in the town of Kut, 175 kilometers (109 miles) southeast of Baghdad on August 9, 2008. After five years of fighting Shiite militias and Al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq, 2,000 Georgian troops are packing up to fly home where a new war awaits them with neighboring Russia. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Kut, Iraq (AFP) Aug 9, 2008
Georgia will withdraw its entire 2,000-strong military contingent from Iraq within three days to help battle South Ossetian separatist rebels, a senior Georgian military official said on Saturday.

"We were ready to leave today, we are ready to leave immediately but we are waiting for the green light from Tbilisi," said Emzar Svanidze, a major with the Georgian military operation in Kut, where 1,700 troops are based.

"For the moment they are asking us to wait," he told AFP, adding that 300 soldiers based in Baghdad as well as those in "another location" had yet to arrive in Kut.

Colonel Bondo Maisuradze, chief of Georgia's military operations in the Iraqi capital, said: "We are discussing with the Americans the conditions of our departure which may take place tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."

The US military has agreed to help with the logistics of the Georgian redeployment, Maisuradze added.

The move came as Georgian and Russian forces were locked in combat on Saturday over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia and President Mikheil Saakashvili of the small Caucasus nation declared a "state of war."

The departure of the brigade from Georgia -- the third largest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the United States and Britain -- will mean some slight changes, the US military said.

"We'll face structural changes, so we'll have to make changes. Fortunately, they are in a stable area of Iraq," military spokesman Major John Hall said.

The majority of Georgian soldiers are deployed near Kut, 175 kilometres (109 miles) south of Baghdad in the province of Wasit, a hotbed of smuggling near the Iranian border.

"They are setting up checkpoints with the border with Iran, and controlling entry and exit," said Siraj al-Samach, a member of Wasit provincial council.

"Their departure will not cause a vacuum or have any effect, because Wasit province is stable and Iraqi forces were about to take over security of the province," he added.

US forces have so far transferred control of security in 10 of 18 provinces to the Iraqi army.

The Georgians have also been involved in operations northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, an Al-Qaeda stronghold that has seen repeated Iraqi and US assaults.

The Georgian soldiers also have a small presence in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified sector of Baghdad that houses the US embassy and Iraqi government institutions.

A staunch US ally that seeks NATO membership, Georgia last year more than doubled the number of its soldiers serving with the American-led mission in Iraq, scoring plaudits from US officials just when other countries in the coalition were reducing their presence.

But their force was to have been reduced to 300 by the end of summer anyway and eventually withdrawn entirely by the end of 2008, leaving troops from 20 countries serving in the coalition alongside US forces.

Since Georgia's deployment to Iraq in August 2003, about 4,000 of their soldiers have passed through Iraq.

They have suffered five deaths, according to an independent count by the website Three of the five were killed this year in combat-related incidents.

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Outside View: De-mythologizing the surge
Washington (UPI) Aug 5, 2008
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