A Bulgarian unit of 120 lightly armed soldiers and support team of 35 people will leave for Iraq by mid-March at the latest, Minister of Defence Vesselin Bliznakov announced. At today's session the cabinet approved a draft agreement with the USA according to which Bulgarian troops will assist in the guarding of the Detention and Protection Centre in Ashraf refugee camp.
The troops are currently undergoing intensive training and I am convinced that they will be completely ready to perform well by the time of departure, Minister Bliznakov said. He pointed out that the guarding mission of the Bulgarian units will span over a period of 12 months, and added that the decision for the unit rotation will be taken by the Bulgarian commandment.
Our country's contingent will be under the operational and tactical command of the US military police. The status of the Bulgarian soldiers remains the same as in their recent participation in the Multinational Division Center-South, under the Polish command.
The government decided to continue the mission of the Multinational Forces in Iraq by the end of 2006 in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1637 of November 2005 and as response to a request made by the Iraqi government.
The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted a series of discussions with the coalition states to decide on the appropriate format of Bulgaria's further participation in international efforts to establish security and stability in Iraq. After serious consideration of all proposals put forward by the coalition partners, the government decided that Bulgarian troops' participation in the humanitarian mission in Ashraf refugee camp is politically acceptable and feasible in military and technical terms.
The USA will cover expenses relating to transportation, logistics and medical supplies for the troops.
So far there haven't been any accidents in Ashraf, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivailo Kalfin said. He pointed out that our country took commitments to NATO to participate with a specific number of soldiers in international missions. Minister Bliznakov added that the government's decision is not a surprise but rather an expression of Bulgaria's consistent policy towards Iraq and a major part of the cooperation between Bulgaria and the USA.