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El Salvador to withdraw troops from Iraq

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador —  President Tony Saca announced Tuesday he will withdraw Salvadoran troops from Iraq after Dec. 31, pulling out the only remaining soldiers from Latin America.

Five of El Salvador's soldiers have been killed and more than 20 have been wounded since the country deployed troops there in 2003. It currently has 200 soldiers based near the southeastern Shiite city of Kut.

"We have fulfilled our mission with Iraq," Saca told reporters Tuesday in San Salvador.

Saca, whose conservative party is fighting to hold the presidency in next year's elections, denied he was withdrawing troops early because his close ally U.S. President George W. Bush is leaving office.

In November, Saca said Iraqi President Jalal Talibani had written him a letter asking him to keep Salvadoran troops in Iraq. But he said the Iraqi government never followed up.

"We haven't received, in recent days, any request from the Iraqi parliament or Iraqi authorities," he said, adding: "If we had received something recently, my decision would have been to keep the troops in Iraq."

He said troops would leave after Dec. 31, when the U.N. resolution that authorized the international coalition expires.

Britain has already said it plans to withdraw its 4,000 troops from southern Iraq by the end of May. Australia, Estonia and Romania also have forces in the country.

Saca has been under opposition pressure from the public to withdraw troops from Iraq, although the country's congress had authorized him to keep soldiers there until June 2009.

"I think it is for the best," ice cream vendor Manuel Escamilla said of the withdrawal. "We shouldn't have anything to do with a war in another country."

In the five years that Salvadoran soldiers have been in Iraq, they have completed 350 health, education and infrastructure projects that benefited an estimated 7 million Iraqis.

"As president of this country and as the commanding officer of its armed forces, we should be happy with our participation in Iraq," Saca said. "We have helped rebuild a large part of the Iraqi area."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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