KIEV, Ukraine – The Ukrainian parliament called Tuesday for an immediate withdrawal of the nation's peacekeepers from Iraq. The vote was nonbinding but reflected growing national dismay over the mission.
The call came two days after eight Ukrainian soldiers died in an explosion at an ammunition dump in Iraq. The blast was reported as an accident, but a top commander later raised suspicions it could have been a terrorist action.
On Monday, President Leonid Kuchma (search) ordered the foreign and defense ministries to develop a plan for withdrawing Ukraine's troops from Iraq within the first half of 2005.
But the parliament, in a 308-0 vote, called on Kuchma to accelerate the process by issuing an immediate decree on withdrawal.
There was no immediate response from Kuchma. Valeriy Chauly, an analyst with the Kiev-based Razumkov think-tank, said he expected the final decision on a pullout would come only after a new president takes office.
Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (search), who also supports a withdrawal, on Monday was declared the winner of the presidential election. It was not clear when he might take office.
Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the military had an approximate plan for the withdrawal, which would take two months.
"The military will fulfill the political decision as soon as we receive an order from the president," he said.
Earlier, the cash-strapped Ukrainian military announced it was preparing for a phased withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2005 because of logistic and financial problems.
A withdrawal could be a blow for the U.S.-led operation, not only because of the Ukrainian contingent's size but because of the country's reputation for eagerly participating in dangerous peacekeeping missions.
It was a major component of the ill-fated peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina (search) in 1992-95, and Ukraine currently has peacekeepers in Sierra Leone (search). Kuchma recently endorsed sending troops to take part in the United Nations observer mission in Syria's Golan Heights (search).
Ukraine strongly opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq but later agreed to send troops in an apparent effort to patch up relations frayed by allegations that Kuchma had approved the sale of radar systems and other military equipment to Saddam Hussein's regime in contravention of U.N. sanctions.
"The situation in Iraq has deteriorated and as a consequence we lost our men," acting Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk was quoted as saying on Monday by the Interfax news agency.
Yushchenko's campaign manager, Oleksandr Zinchenko, said Monday that withdrawal was a difficult procedure, burdened with political, finance, military and diplomatic details, but stressed that the issue would be one of Yushchenko's top concerns.