by Peter Byrne
Demined 250-kg bombs left by Saddam Hussein's army are used as a fence at Ukrainian military department "Delta" in the suburb of Al-Kut, in southern Iraq, on Oct. 10, 2004. Eight Ukrainian peacekeepers were killed on Jan. 9 and scores injured during an attempt to dispose of the bombs near the town of As Suveyra in Iraq.
Parliament again called for the immediate withdrawal of Ukrainian peacekeepers from Iraq on Jan. 11, 2005.
The second non-binding resolution came two days after eight Ukrainian soldiers died in an explosion at an ammunition dump in Iraq. The cause of the blast, first reported as an accident, it under investigation.
Some 308 deputies, 82 more than the simple majority required, called on President Leonid Kuchma to accelerate the withdrawal process. A similar resolution, to no effect, was passed on Dec. 3.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Jan. 11 that Ukraine had informed U.S. officials that changes in the Ukraine contingent would be made in full consultation with the Iraqi government and multinational forces.
"President Kuchma has asked only that contingency plans be drawn up. So as far as we can tell, the Ukrainian leadership has not made a decision on withdrawal"' said Boucher, who called Ukraine a "very important partner" in the Iraq campaign.
Boucher said that U.S. officials are aware that President-elect Viktor Yushchenko campaigned on a platform that included an end to the Iraq troop deployment.
"While sustaining coalition support in Iraq understandably matters to Washington, it would be a mistake to let that question dominate the bilateral agenda, "the Washington Post on Jan. 1 quoted former ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, who is retired from the Foreign Service, as saying.
Bringing home the troops topped the agenda' of a meeting on Jan. 10 between Kuchma, Defense Minister Olexandr Kuz'muk and Foreign Minister Anatoliy Hryshchenko.
"I have been instructed to immediately start planning for withdrawal of the Ukrainian contingent from iraq in the first half of the current year"' the president's press service quoted Kuz'muk as saying.
There are currently 1,621 Ukrainian troops stationed in Iraq, according to the Defense Ministry's website.
Accidents have accounted for most of contingent's casualties since deployment in August 2003.
Most ordinary Ukrainians opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq as well as Kushma's decision to send troops there. The move was an apparent effort to patch up relation with Washington, which months earlier accused Kuchma of approving the sale of radar systems to Iraq in violation of UN sanction.
Deputies belonging to the pro-presidentail majority along with 39 deputiesa belonging to Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine faction, including Yushchenko himself and Olexandr Zinchenko, were among the 273 lawmakers who originally authorized the deployment of Ukrainian troops to Iraq.
Zinchenko, now a member of Our Ukraine in charge of Yushchenko's presidential campaign, told reporters on Jan. 10 that withdrawal of Ukraine's peacekeepers would be a difficult procedure, burdened with political, financial, military and diplomatic details, but stressed that the issue would be a top priority.