KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine (search) is negotiating with the United States and Poland to reduce and eventually withdraw its troops from Iraq (search), a top defense official said Thursday, becoming the latest country to consider pulling out its mission.
Vyacheslav Bolotniuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, gave no timeline.
"There will be a decrease of troops," Bolotniuk told The Associated Press.
Ukrainian troops have begun turning over guard duties of several key facilities to Iraqi soldiers, the Defense Ministry said in a statement, and Iraqi border guards took over patrols on a section of the Iraqi-Iranian border from a Ukrainian contingent.
Earlier Thursday, Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk told the ITAR-Tass news agency that negotiations had started in Warsaw earlier this year and continued last month at the NATO (search) summit in Istanbul.
Ukraine opposed the U.S.-led war, but sent troops in part to improve relations with the United States amid accusations that President Leonid Kuchma approved the sale of radar systems to Saddam Hussein.
Ukraine has 1,650 Ukrainian troops serving in the Polish-led force patrolling southern Iraq, making up the fourth-largest, non-U.S. contingent. The soldiers' mandate was up for renewal in August, and Kuchma had previously suggested that they would remain.
However, the country's government is under increasing pressure at home to withdraw the troops, especially as Ukraine's Oct. 31 presidential election heats up. The top candidates are Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who has Kuchma's backing, and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.
Seven Ukrainian soldiers have died in Iraq, three of them in combat in April, and about 20 have been wounded.
Several countries have reconsidered troops in Iraq as violence and kidnappings have threatened foreigners in the troubled country. The Philippines pulled its troops out July 20, a month ahead of schedule, after militants threatened to kill a Filipino truck driver. After the troops were withdrawn, the hostage was released unharmed.
Spain withdrew its forces from Iraq after the deadly Madrid bombings.