BAGHDAD – Georgia will remove all of its 2,000 soldiers from Iraq to join the fighting in the breakaway province of South Ossetia as soon as transport can be arranged, the commander said Saturday.
A U.S. military spokesman says the departure of the Georgian contingent — the third largest contributor to coalition forces after the U.S. and Britain — will have "some impact" in the near term but no significant long-term effect on Iraq's security.
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Col. Bondo Maisuradze, commander of the Georgia brigade, told The Associated Press that all his troops would be leaving, but he couldn't say when because transportation arrangements had not been finalized. "All the Georgian guys will be leaving for the homeland," he said.
The Georgians have asked the United States to provide transportation, and U.S. spokesman Capt. Charles G. Calio said all options are being considered.
Last year, the Georgians raised the number of troops in Iraq from 850 to 2,000 at a time when most non-American contingents were cutting back — a move that won them points with U.S. commanders.
The Georgians also agreed to move their troops from the relatively safe Green Zone in Baghdad to an area southeast of the capital to help interdict supplies being smuggled to Shiite extremists from Iran. At least five Georgians soldiers have died in Iraq.
Fighting raged a second day Saturday in Georgia's separatist South Ossetia region. On Friday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told CNN that the troops in Iraqi would be called home to join the fighting and restore Georgian rule in the province.
Russia responded by sending troops into South Ossetia, saying it wanted to protect civilians in the province, most of whom hold Russian citizenship.