Kazakh defense minister says country's troops should leave Iraq

The defense minister of Kazakhstan said Tuesday his country's troops should be withdrawn from Iraq when their current mandate expires.

"It's time to think about stopping the work of our contingent in Iraq," Defense Minister Gen. Mukhtar Altynbayev was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

The Defense Ministry press service confirmed that Altynbayev had spoken in favor of a pullout during a meeting with army officers, though a spokesman stressed it was the minister's "personal opinion."

Kazakhstan currently has 27 soldiers serving in Iraq, where a contingent was first deployed in August 2003. There have been four rotations of the unit, is charged with clearing mines and providing water to Iraqis.

One Kazakh soldier has been killed.

It is not the first time that Altynbayev has spoken in favor of pulling out the troops. In April 2004, he proposed that Kazakhstan end its troop deployment when their term expired.

But the Foreign Ministry said that the troops' presence in Iraq increased the chances of Kazakh companies winning contracts for reconstruction projects in Iraq.

Associated Press

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