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Dominican Republic and Honduras to withdraw troops from Iraq

Following Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decision last week, both US Latin American allies will send back home 670 soldiers as son as possible. Another Central American nation, Nicaragua, had already left Iraqi soil in February.

No good news for US-led coalition in Iraq. This week, two of its Latin American members, Dominican Republic and Honduras, decided to pullout from the battlefield, following Spain's suit. Together, both Central American nations had deployed over 670 troopers in Iraq, under Spanish command. Now, they will join the 115 Nicaraguans that had already returned to the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea in February.

On Tuesday, Dominican Defense Secretary, General Jose Miguel Soto Jimenez, gave orders to his 302 men division to leave war-torn Iraq next week. "The armed forces' troops in Iraq will leave in a few days, in the next week," the general said after talks with President Hipolito Mejia. Less than one week ago, Mejia himself had confirmed that troops would remain in Iraq until July, no matter Spain’s attitude.

The Dominican troops were attached to a Spanish-led brigade that is being withdrawn from Iraq. Honduras, which has 368 troops in the same brigade, announced Monday that they would also be withdrawn. The official explanation to Dominican shift came later this week: Mejia may have told new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero the Dominican troops would leave when their mission ends in July, but reversed himself after speaking with Honduran President Ricardo Maduro.

Mr. Monteros, on the other hand, says his 368 troops in Iraq will be withdrawn as soon as possible as mission assigned them by United Nations has already been accomplished.  "Today I have spoken with the members of the coalition and other friendly countries, and have decided to withdraw the Honduran troops in Iraq," Maduro said. 

"I have ordered the secretary of state... to carry out the decision as quickly as possible and in a way that will ensure the safety of our troops," Maduro said in a speech broadcast nationally. The withdrawal of Honduran troops from Iraq came only two days after Spain said it would withdraw its troops from Iraq immediately, drawing reproach from US President George W. Bush as he tries to hold the International coalition together in the face of mounting guerrilla attacks.

Even when the pullout is not of major importance in military terms, it is of political significance, as Honduras and Dominican Republic are US best allies in Central America, an area considered within Pentagon's sphere of influence. Mexico, the second nation in importance in the area behind the United States, abstained from approving resolutions fueled by Washington at UN Security Council early last year and refused to send its troops to Iraq. Outside Iraq, Central America and the Caribbean may have another opportunity to adopt a common foreign policy with the rest of the Latin American countries.

All together, Central American countries deployed 1,044 soldiers in Iraq, including 374 Salvadoran, under Spanish command. Only the Salvadoran will stay until July, if there is nothing on the contrary in the next days.

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