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S. Korea Ends Iraq Deployment With Homecoming Fanfare

South Korea has now formally terminated its military deployment to Iraq, with a ceremony to welcome returning troops home to the capital, Seoul. South Koreans had mixed feelings about the four year deployment.

Music and military fanfare were part of the welcome home for several hundred South Korean forces returning to Seoul Friday from Iraq. Their return closes the final chapter in a deployment that numbered about 3,600 four years ago.

Troops mainly involved in reconstruction, humanitarian aid

South Korea was once the third largest contributor of international forces to stabilization efforts in Iraq, following the U.S.-led removal of Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. Most of the non-combat military personnel served in the relatively peaceful, predominantly Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

The South Korean non-combat unit "Zaytun" -- meaning olive branch in Arabic -- engaged mainly in civilian reconstruction and humanitarian aid, such as providing medical care. A South Korean air force unit named "Daiman" -- or "always with you" in Arabic-- supported the Zaytun detachment from neighboring Kuwait. The Daiman unit made its return home Friday, as well.

Colonel thrilled after successful mission

Air Force Colonel Park Jin-yong tells reporters he is very glad to come back home safely after a successful mission.

The Iraq deployment was controversial here, where many ordinary South Koreans questioned why they should become embroiled in the middle eastern country's problems.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun, who ordered the first detachment, argued the deployment was necessary to strengthen the military alliance between South Korea and the United States. Washington stations about 28,000 forces here in South Korea and guarantees the country's security, particularly against a potential repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion.