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Armenians in Iraq fear troop deployment

ISN SECURITY WATCH (18/01/05) – Armenian peacekeepers departed for Iraq today to participate in the US-led occupation force’s multinational operations. The small regiment of 46 Armenian peacekeepers is scheduled to stay in Iraq for six months to engage in non-combat activities under the general command of the Polish contingent in Iraq, officials said. The unit includes 30 drivers, 10 sappers, three doctors, and unit commanders. The controversial decision to send troops to Iraq was made on 24 December during a closed parliamentary meeting. Twenty-three members of the Armenian National Assembly voted against sending troops to Iraq, while 91 supported the initiative. Only two factions, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation- Dashnakcutyun, a member of the ruling coalition, and the main opposition group Justice, voted against the resolution. Opponents of the initiative raised fears that sending troops to Iraq would endanger the lives of the 20’000-strong Armenian community in Iraq. Recent polls show that the majority of Armenian citizens do not support the initiative and disagree with the government’s decision to remain committed to the peacekeeping operation. Armenia has been struggling to regain lost ground with the US, which has, over the course of the past couple of years, shifted the balance of its support to countries in the Caucasus, threatening Armenia by aid to its archrival, neighboring Azerbaijan. Last September, according Caucaz.com, Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarksian said the decision to send troops to Iraq was intended to halt Armenia’s regional isolation. Once Armenia pledged to send troops to Iraq, Washington responded in kind by passing a budget restoring military parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to Caucaz.com. But given the increased violence in Iraq, the Christian Armenian community there is worried that they will increasingly become targets of new violence. Father Garegin, an Armenian religious leader in Mosul, told the Yerkir.am news agency that sending Armenian troops to Iraq could have grave consequences for his community. He says tensions have already risen exponentially. “There are 20’000 Armenians in Iraq. The situation is very tense now. People do not leave their houses because they are scared. They can’t event go to church – they can’t go to the Armenian church in the center of Baghdad. Our children can’t go to schools,” he was quoted as saying. Fear rose in early August, when five churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul, killing 12 people. In mid-October, another five churches in Baghdad were reportedly attacked. Then, in November, eight people were killed in another church bombing, according to various news agencies. The abduction yesterday and release today of a Roman Catholic archbishop in Mosul has also added to the fears of Iraq’s estimated 650’000 Christians. (By Aram Ananian in Yerevan)

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