19 January 2005

Armenian troops deployed in Iraq through Kuwait

AZAD-HYE (19 January 2005): For few month now we have been running a pole about the deployment of Armenian troops in Iraq (see next column). The result is: 83% do not agree, 17% agrees (number of participants: 29). This picture reflects the opinion of the general Armenian public. We suppose that the number of opponents in the Diaspora is higher than in Armenia, but judging from the opinions heard on the National Armenian TV, the majority of the Armenians worldwide disagree with the deployment of the troops, considering it dangerous for the soldiers themselves and the Armenians living in Iraq.

On 18th January 2005 an Armenian peacekeeping regiment of 46 soldiers (3 doctors, 10 bomb disposal experts, 30 drivers and 3 officers) headed for Iraq to be positioned in the Shiite city of Karbala and nearby al-Hila for one year, undertaking non-combat activities under the command of the Polish contingent. Initially, the regiment will remain two weeks in Kuwait, where it will receive additional training and will be introduced to the nature of its duties.

The majority of the members in the Armenian National Assembly (Parliament) voted last December (2004) in favor of the deployment of the regiment, although recent polls indicated that the general public does not support the move. Many fear that such a presence would endanger the interests of the 20 thousand Armenians living in Iraq, who can become target of violence. There are reports that Armenians are afraid to go out of their homes or attend Churches or send their children to schools. One of the Armenian churches in Baghdad and another one in Mosul were damaged by separate attacks last year.

It is obvious that the Armenian Government was caught in a delicate situation: from one side the public opinion and the desire of the majority of the Armenians and from the other side the geopolitical concerns and the future role of Armenia in the region. This was reflected in the speech of Defence Minister Serge Sarkissian as he addressed the troops in the airport saying "This day is very important for Armenian armed forces. We cannot stay away from international processes geared toward promoting stability and peace in our region, particularly in Iraq".

Sources: AFP, Armenian National TV, etc.

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