Bulgaria begins pullout from Iraq

Bulgaria started withdrawing its troops from Iraq on Friday, the Defense Ministry announced. "Bulgaria's infantry battalion in Iraq concluded its operative tasks today and begins its relocation to Bulgaria as decided by Parliament," the ministry said in a statement. The ministry said that "with the elections conducted, Bulgaria's infantry battalion has concluded successfully its mission in Iraq."

The 400-men strong battalion will transfer its military responsibilities in the Iraqi city of Diwaniya to Iraq's government forces. Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov said last week that Bulgaria will "most likely" continue its military involvement in Iraq by contributing a 120-strong non-combat unit tasked with guarding the Ashraf refugee camp.

He said this non-combat mission would start "in the first months of 2006," and would last at least four months. In May, Bulgaria's parliament voted to cut the number of troops in Iraq from 460 to 400 and to continue their deployment through the end of 2005. Officials have said the country will start a pullout after next week's parliamentary elections in Iraq. Bulgaria has lost 13 soldiers in Iraq since it dispatched troops to Iraq in August 2003. Six Bulgarian civilians also died, reports the AP. N.U.