Slovakia May Pull its Troops From Iraq

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Robert Fico, whose Smer-Social Democracy party is expected to form the new Slovak Cabinet next week, said Saturday that his government will immediately pull the country's troops out of Iraq.

"The (new) government should immediately prepare the timetable of the withdrawal," Fico said in an interview with state-run radio. However, he did not specify the timeframe of any pullout.

Slovakia has 104 troops in Iraq, stationed in Hillah in the Polish sector. The troops were deployed in 2003 with an open mandate, and are mostly involved in dismantling land mines. Three Slovak soldiers died two years ago in an explosion at an ammunition dump in Iraq.

"Our presence will not contribute a tiny bit to the security in Iraq ... we do not belong there," Fico said.

Slovakia's outgoing government had planned to keep its troops in Iraq and shift their mission to help train Iraqi soldiers.

Fico, a populist politician, announced earlier this week he will form the coalition government with two rightist parties. The move as well as his election pledges about dismantling economic reforms that brought Slovakia to the European Union and NATO have drawn criticism from Slovakia and abroad.

Observers say a pullout from Iraq will also sour Slovakia's relations with the United States.

Polls show the country still mostly backing its military presence in Iraq. In 2006, Slovakia, a former Eastern Bloc country, abolished compulsory military service and introduced a fully professional army.