The soldiers are involved in Leonid Kuchma's gamble in Iraq
On Thursday the first group of Ukrainian peacekeepers of 69 soldiers, the 5th mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces, left the airport of Borispol for Kuwait. At the Camp Coyote, the Kuwaiti military base, the Ukrainian soldiers will be received by the 19th battalion for radiation, chemical and biological protection. From the military base they will leave for Iraq to carry out the international peacekeeping mission in Poland's sector of responsibility. The Ukrainian soldiers will be stationed in the city of Al Kut.
Ukraine Minister of Defense Yeugeny Marchuk took part in a ceremonious departure for the peacekeepers. The minister said that in Iraq the Ukrainian soldiers would transport humanitarian cargo, patrol highways, protect the Iraq-Iran borders and it is not ruled out they will guard oil pipelines. The soldiers won't be engaged in searches of weapons of mass destruction as this operation requires a special sanction.
According to Yeugeny Marchuk, "participation of the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent in the post-war restoration of Iraq meets the national interests of Ukraine."
In fact, not all people in Ukraine support this point of view. Leader of the Ukrainian Social Party Alexander Moroz circulated a statement under the title "NO to Kuchma's Gamble in Iraq!" In the statement Alexander Moroz says that the parliament had taken the decision to send the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent to Iraq under the pressure of Leonid Kuchma. The statement runs: "The decision taken by the president and the parliament is the biggest political mistake of Ukraine over the whole of its modern history. There is no political, economic or moral excuse to this doing. This decision cannot be reached by a country that disarmed itself and humiliated the army."
The Social Party leader thinks that “the authorities are lying when speaking about observance of Ukraine's national interests in Iraq. If there are any interests, they are rather personal than national. Alexander Moroz asks: "Why was the cooperation between Ukraine and Iraq so restricted before? Why are our soldiers being sent to the conflict region while it is clear Ukraine had nothing to do with the conflict initiation but now has to protect the oil interests of other countries?" Alexander Moroz says that Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq will be not peacekeepers but occupants there; consequently the local population will treat them like occupants. Why does Ukraine run the risks of having battle planes hovering in the sky above the country the same way it was during the Afghani war? The Socialist Party leader thinks the only explanation why Ukrainian soldiers are sent to Iraq is an attempt to improve Leonid Kuchma's tainted reputation. Right before the sending of the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent to Iraq the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma received thanks from US President George W. Bush for "Ukraine's contribution into restoration of peace and stability in Iraq."
In fact, the number of Ukrainians wishing to carry out the peacekeeping mission in Iraq is rather considerable. Although the minister of defense says that the Ukrainian contingent is leaving for Iraq not for the sake of money earning, many soldiers say they go to Iraq because of money. According to the Segodnya newspaper, "Ukrainian privates, first sergeants and sergeants will be paid $600-650 a month, ensigns - $890-920 and officers will be paid $960-1200 for the service outside Ukraine." It is quite obvious that the Ukrainian military are not paid this money at home.
The day of departure of the Ukrainian contingent to Iraq coincided with the closure of the Iraqi Embassy in Ukraine. Earlier the acting coalition administration of Iraq recalled all Iraqi ambassadors to Baghdad (which is quite typical for replacement of the authority). The UNIAN Ukrainian independent new agency reports that on July 1 the Ukrainian foreign minister declared it no longer recognized Iraqi Ambassador to Ukraine Mozhar ad-Duri a plenipotentiary of the previous Iraqi government; the ambassador was informed of this opinion. Now the Iraqi Embassy in Ukraine is closed. The press-service of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reports that recommencement of the Embassy's activity "depends upon the Iraqi side".
Photo from BBC archives