YEREVAN (AFP) Jan 18, 2005
A group of 46 Armenian soldiers flew off from here Tuesday aboard a US C-130 transport plane on a humanitarian mission to Iraq where they will serve under Polish command for one year.
“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,” said Defense Minister Serge Sarkissian as he addressed the troops before they departed for Baghdad via Kuwait.
The minister said the 46 soldiers — three doctors, 10 bomb disposal experts, 30 drivers and three senior officers — would be deployed in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and nearby al-Hila.
Late last month, the Armenian parliament approved a controversial government plan to send troops and medics to join the US-led coalition in Iraq.
Ninety-one deputies voted in favour of the proposal with 23 against and one abstention, despite fears from opposition groups that the deployment would endanger the large Armenian diaspora in the Arab world.
Opposition parties and youth organizations warned that insurgents could target the some 20,000 ethnic Armenians in Iraq if the troops join the US-led campaign.