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Estonia to no longer send combat unit to Iraq


TALLINN, Jan 22, BNS - Estonia will not send another infantry unit on a mission to Iraq but will continue taking part in the NATO training mission there, Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told the government on Thursday.

One of the reasons for the discontinuation of the mission is that Estonia failed to reach agreement with the Iraqi government on the accord concerning the status of the troops.

Thus the next Estonian infantry unit, ESTPLA-18, will not be deployed in Iraq. Estonia will continue taking part in the NATO training mission in Iraq with three staff officers, spokespeople for the Defense Ministry said.

Defense cooperation between Estonia and Iraq will continue in other forms in accordance with a bilateral agreement that is now being drafted.

Aaviksoo said there were three reasons why the mission in its present form was ended. The first is the stabilization in the security situation in Iraq.

"The second is that according to the Riigikogu mandate, concluding an agreement on the legal status of our soldiers was a prerequisite for the continuation of Estonia in Iraq, on which it is not possible in the light of the decision by the Iraqi parliament to reach an agreement satisfying both sides," said the minister.

The third reason is that the Iraqi government has clearly expressed the wish to continue bilateral defense cooperation in a non-combat form.

Aaviksoo will head to Iraq soon to officially end the mission of Estonian troops in a ceremony. He will also meet with Iraq's Defense Minister Abdul Al-Qadir Jassam to discuss the future of defense cooperation between the countries.

The Estonian defense forces have been taking part in the mission in Iraq since June 2003.

The Iraqi government has turned to the United Kingdom, Australia, Romania, El-Salvador and Estonia with a request to continue military cooperation also after the UN mandate for the coalition troops ended at the end of last year.

The previous Estonian combat unit, the 34-strong ESTPLA-17, returned from Iraq shortly before Christmas. ESTPLA-18 is manned and has been in readiness for deployment.

On Dec. 17 last year the Estonian parliament voted to extend the mission for Estonian troops in Iraq until the end of 2009 on the condition that Iraq will file a corresponding request and either a troop status accord will be signed or a UN resolution adopted on continued foreign troop presence in Iraq.

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