Slovene media and opposition leaders on Friday slammed a government decision to deploy four army officers to Iraq to train security forces there. In an apparent shift in foreign policy, the government decided on Thursday to send four soldiers to help prepare Iraqi security troops on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Although Slovenian military officers have helped train Iraqi security personnel in neighboring Jordan, Ljubljana had previously said it would not participate in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq itself unless it was sanctioned by the U.N.
In an editorial headlined "Welcome to Baghdad" criticizing the move, the daily Vecer warned that "the soldiers could return without an arm, leg or even in a body bag." One small political party held a rally at Ljubljana's main cemetery to protest the deployment.
"The government is now responsible for the security of its soldiers. I hope they also have a response in case Slovene citizens are taken hostage," said Jelko Kacin, the head of Slovenia's leading opposition party, the Liberal Democrats. Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel and Defense Minister Karl Erjavec maintained that the government was not shifting its policy and stressed that Slovenian soldiers would not be involved in combat or military operations run by coalition forces.
"Slovenia is a NATO member and this is part of a NATO operation and not a coalition operation," Erjavec said. "It is a peace operation and not a military operation." The four military officers will stay at the Al Islamiya training center outside Baghdad for a six-month period. They are expected to depart within two months, reports the AP. N.U.