Ukrainian troops are leaving Iraq

Ukrainian troops have completed their mission in Iraq and are ready to come home, the defense minister told Thursday.

"The military mission is over and now is the time for diplomats, industry workers and businessmen to have their word," Defense Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko said after returning from a two-day trip to Iraq.

Grytsenko said it was too early "to speak about complete stabilization" in Iraq, noting that "the development of democracy is a long process."

"It will probably take 10 years or even more, but the tendency is positive," he said.

Ukraine's remaining 876 troops in Iraq are due home by Dec. 30.

Ukraine strongly opposed the U.S.-led war but later agreed to send 1,650 troops to serve under Polish command in central and southern Iraq.

The deployment was widely seen as an effort by former President Leonid Kuchma to repair relations with Washington, frayed by allegations that he approved the sale of radar systems to Saddam Hussein's regime in violation of U.N. sanctions. The Ukrainian contingent became the fourth-largest in the U.S.-led military operation, but the move was deeply unpopular.

During Ukraine's involvement in Iraq, Ukraine lost 18 soldiers and 32 others suffered injuries.

The government began withdrawing its troops in March, and President Viktor Yushchenko had promised they would be out by the year's end, the AP reports.


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