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Ukraine, Bulgaria Pull Troops Out of Iraq

Ukraine and Bulgaria began the final withdrawal of their combat troops from Iraq this week, reducing the U.S.-led military coalition to 24 countries. Another 12 countries have withdrawn their troops in the past two years.

Ukraine had the fifth largest contingent in the multi-national force, with nearly one thousand troops in the south-central part of Iraq, where Poland holds the command. Ukraine had already reduced its troop presence in Iraq from a high of more than 1,600, and the completion of the withdrawal fulfills a campaign promise by the country's new government.

Bulgaria was 11th on the coalition list with about 450 troops in Iraq. One report indicates Bulgaria may send some security guards to Iraq next year.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says countries join and leave the coalition for a variety of reasons, and he says there are other ways some members contribute besides having troops on the ground.

"Every country will make decisions about commitments to various operations, to include Operation Iraqi Freedom," he said. "There are many ways in which countries are assisting in the global war on terror. Some of them are assisting in Iraq with forces. Some of them are assisting in many different ways, in terms of diplomatic, financial, law enforcement."

Still, Mr. Whitman says the withdrawal of the Ukrainian and Bulgarian troops will have an impact. It comes as the coalition commander in Iraq is working on an expected plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops in the country.

"That does play into the number of commitments on the part of other countries, to include the United States," he added.

Mr. Whitman also notes that other countries are either joining or re-committing to the coalition. Bosnia recently deployed 36 bomb experts to Iraq, while Japan, Italy and Poland made commitments to stay in spite of domestic opposition.

At the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York, staff writer Lionel Beehner follows developments in the Iraq coalition. He does not expect the Ukrainian and Bulgarian withdrawals to have a major impact.

"I don't think it has huge implications," he said. "It's not going to break the back of our efforts there."

Mr. Beehner says aside from the largest coalition members -- the United States, Britain, Italy and Poland -- other contingents mainly provide non-combat support and symbolism.

"A lot of these countries in the coalition are really providing more symbolic support," he explained. "They're non-combat troops. They're not on the front lines. A lot of them are in the south of Iraq, where it's much more peaceful, and they are providing assistance in training, reconstruction and other things."

Still, both Ukraine and Bulgaria suffered significant casualties during their deployments, which helped erode public and political support for the missions back home. Bulgaria lost 13 troops, while the larger Ukrainian force lost 18.