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Thai Troops Won't Withdraw from Iraq - 2003-12-29

Thailand has no plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq and instead may send a combat unit to protect them. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra made the remarks after two Thai soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing against a coalition garrison in the central Iraqi city of Karbala.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the unit of 30 combat troops would guard 440 non-combat Thai soldiers who have been stationed in the Karbala area for the past three months.

However, Mr. Thaksin reiterated that Thailand's forces are in Iraq to help rebuild the country and not for combat duty. "We send the troops there for humanitarian reasons," he says. "So I think the mission is still there. The Iraqi people still need help."

Thai military engineers and medical workers have been rebuilding schools and providing health care to Iraqis around Karbala since September. They form part of a nine thousand-strong multinational division led by Poland.

Two Thai and five Bulgarian soldiers were among at least 18 people killed by several car bombs that exploded outside their barracks on Saturday. A dozen Iraqi soldiers and civilians also died in the attack.

The bombs were part of an offensive against coalition forces by supporters of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and foreign militants who oppose the presence of foreign troops in Iraq.

The death of the Thai soldiers, said to be the kingdom's first military combat deaths since the Vietnam War, fueled an on-going debate over Thailand's commitment to the U.S. led coalition in Iraq.

Some opposition politicians say the government should withdraw its troops from Iraq, but Prime Minister Thaksin on Monday said Thailand would fulfill its one-year commitment to the coalition.