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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s highest court on Tuesday formally began considering President Robert Kocharian’s request to allow the dispatch of a small unit of non-combat troops to Iraq which is facing strong domestic opposition.

The nine judges of the Constitutional Court are to rule whether Yerevan’s plans to become part of the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq conform to the Armenian constitution. A positive ruling by them would lead to a final debate on the issue in parliament. The National Assembly’s consent is also mandatory for the deployment.

The first hearing adjourned just minutes after its start due to the absence of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian who will represent Kocharian in the court. Sarkisian was busy presiding over a meeting in Yerevan of senior security officials from Russian and several other former Soviet republics.

“The discussion would be impossible without the [president’s] official representative,” Gagik Harutiunian, the Constitutional Court chairman, said, describing Sarkisian’s absence as “justified and objective.”

The court will specifically look into the Armenian government’s intention to sign up to an agreement between Poland and 18 other countries that have committed troops to a Polish-led multinational division controlling south-central Iraq. Kocharian promised to place about 50 Armenian military doctors, sappers and truck drivers under Polish command during a visit to Warsaw last September.

A team of Armenian military officials was due to visit and inspect the area later in September. However, the visit did not take place for unknown reasons, fueling speculation that Yerevan is having second thoughts about the deployment.

Armenia’s largest opposition group, the Artarutyun bloc, and two dozen non-governmental organizations have spoken out against it, warning that Iraq’s ethnic Armenian community could face retaliatory attacks from Iraqi insurgents. The latter have routinely kidnapped and killed citizens of countries cooperating with the occupation force. Leaders of the Iraqi Armenians have themselves exhorted Kocharian not to send any servicemen.

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian raised fresh questions about the deployment plans last month when he said that they could be seriously affected by Poland’s reported intention to pull out of Iraq next year.
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