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Estonian defmin hoping for treaty on status of forces with Iraq soon


TALLINN, Jan 14, BNS - Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said Estonia would sign a treaty with the Iraqi government on the status of forces within the next few weeks and on its basis Estonian soldiers can continue their mission in Iraq.

Aaviksoo said in the information hour in parliament on Wednesday that the treaty to be signed with Iraq would be certainly in line with Estonian law.

"We will naturally see that the treaty would be in line with our legislation concerning Estonia's obligations. We can see no reason for the need to ratify the treaty in parliament," Aaviksoo said.

The Iraqi presidential council ratified on December 28 the parliament's decision that permits British, Australian, Estonian and other countries' troops to remain in the country also after the beginning of this year when the United Nations mandate expired.

Before Christmas a 34-strong Estonian infantry platoon, Estpla-17, returned from Iraq to Estonia. A new platoon, Estpla-18, has already been formed, but before legal clarity Estonian soldiers are not going to be dispatched there.

At present there are three Estonian soldiers in Iraq taking part in the NATO training mission.

The Estonian parliament decided on December 17 to extend the Estonian defense forces mission in Iraq until the end of the next year in case Iraq makes a respective request and a treaty on the status of forces is signed or the United Nations passes a respective resolution.

The Estonian defense forces have taken part in the Iraqi Freedom operation since June 2003.

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