By Emil Danielyan
Official Yerevan confirmed Wednesday its intention to send military doctors and demining troops to Iraq in a move that will make Armenia part of the U.S-led multinational force trying to stabilize the country after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
It also condemned Tuesday’s bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad which killed at least 20 people, including the top U.N. envoy in Iraq.
“Armenia intends to participate in the post-war reconstruction operations in Iraq by, among other things, sending medical officers and a platoon of sappers who are in great need given the existing situation in that country,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian told RFE/RL.
Aghajanian said Armenia promised to join the U.S.-led stabilization force “months ago” and has since been discussing with Washington the logistics of the operation. “The dates and conditions for the dispatch of the personnel in question are being clarified and ascertained,” she said, adding that Yerevan is also in talks with the government of Kuwait over the transit of its servicemen through Kuwaiti territory.
The chief of staff of the Armenian army, Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, likewise told RFE/RL on Tuesday that negotiations with the Americans are continuing and that “this issue has not yet been finally resolved.”
Armenia had initially opposed unilateral U.S military action in Iraq not mandated by the UN, but eventually welcomed the overthrow of Saddam’s regime, saying that it only feared for the security of Iraq’s Armenian community. Its plans to join the coalition forces were first made public by the Armenian embassy in Washington on Monday, several days after dispatch to Iraq of about 150 peacekeeping troops from arch-rival Azerbaijan.
Those plans do not seem to have been affected by increased security concerns that followed the truck bomb explosion in Baghdad. In a statement, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian denounced the “outrageous attack.” “We mourn the loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello who as Kofi Annan’s personal representative there personified the UN resolve to support the Iraqi people in the development of a sovereign and independent Iraq,” he said.
Oskanian also expressed concern for the health of Benon Sevan, the Armenian-American director of the UN's oil-for-food program, who was injured in the bombing.
(AP-Photolur photo: A U.S. soldier walks through the dust as a destroyed vehicle is removed from the site of Tuesday's bombing in Baghdad.)