BUCHAREST, Romania – Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu on Thursday proposed withdrawing Romania's 890 troops from Iraq because of security concerns and the cost of the operation.
"The death and serious injury of Romanian soldiers is becoming a concern," said Tariceanu, in an announcement that took many by surprise. He said he had informed President Traian Basescu of his decision and would also tell Washington.
Defense Minister Teodor Atanasiu will formally submit a request to the country's top defense body, which has the power to decide on the withdrawal.
One Romanian soldier has died in Iraq and four have died in Afghanistan.
Atanasiu said the withdrawal would save Romania US$90 million (euro72 million). "The financial side should not be ignored," Tariceanu said.
Atanasiu said he had already spoken to Britain about withdrawing Romanian troops from Iraq, because they operate in Iraq under British and Italian command.
Atanasiu said he wanted to withdraw the troops when they are next due to be rotated "in November or December." He said after Italian troops withdraw, which is scheduled to happen by year end, Romanian soldiers would be left in Nasiriyah without logistical support and a command center there.
The speaker of the Deputies' Chamber, Bogdan Olteanu said the troops' mandate in Iraq would expire at the end of the year and the defense minister would have to be ask parliament six months before that if he wanted to extend it.
The Conservative Party, and the party that represents the interests of ethnic Hungarians, the two junior parties in the coalition said they supported the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
However, the announcement was immediately criticized by the Democratic Party, one of the two main parties in the governing coalition. "It is an act of irresponsibility which seriously affects the credibility of Romania. ... It shows a lack of respect for the coalition," said party leader Emil Boc. He said his party was not consulted about the decision.
U.S. Ambassador Nicholas F. Taubman said he was also surprised by the announcement.
"I have the impression that not all of the relevant parties, whether within Romania or beyond, were consulted," he said. "We have every confidence Romania will continue to work closely with us on our common challenges, including in Iraq."
Basescu has previously said Romania's troops would remain in Iraq, but public support for the operation has been falling, particularly after a soldier was killed in Afghanistan last week. Television showed the soldier's widow and daughter — and Basescu — crying when the body was returned.
Romania has about 700 peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan, and 250 in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. The country would contribute to NATO and EU peacekeeping missions, Tariceanu said.
Romania is a U.S. ally, and the U.S. military used the Black Sea airport of Mihail Kogalniceanu during the 2003 war against Iraq.
Last year, the U.S. said it would establish four military bases in Romania. The largest will be at Mihail Kogalniceanu where 100 personnel will be based, and up to 1,500 troops will rotate through the base at any one time, according to the U.S. State Department. The other bases will be small and rotational.
Romania has been accused by a human rights group of being the site of a secret CIA detention center and allowing the U.S. to fly terrorism suspects over its territory, accusations it strongly denies. Parliament launched an inquiry into the allegations, but no wrongdoing has been proven.