By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia will send on Sunday a new contingent of non-combat troops to Iraq that will replace 46 army officers, doctors, sappers and truck drivers currently completing their six-month tour of duty in the war-torn nation.
“The second group of Armenian peace-keepers is prepared to leave for Iraq to continue our humanitarian mission,” said Major Artak Tonoyan, the commander of the Armenian army’s special peace-keeping battalion that provides personnel for Yerevan’s military missions abroad.
“The contingent will have the same number and composition,” he added in an interview with RFE/RL.
Tonoyan said the servicemen will enter Iraq from Kuwait and will join the Armenian contingent serving there as part of a Polish-led multinational division headquartered in the south-central Iraqi city of Al Hila. The contingent arrived in the area in late January and is due to return to Yerevan later this month.
The Armenian government decided to join the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq despite strong domestic opposition and appeals from Iraq’s Armenian community that feared retaliatory attacks from Islamist insurgents. Official said the mission is necessary for Armenia’s efforts to forge closer security links with the United States and the West in general.
“Armenian peace-keepers remain Iraq as part of the global fight against terrorism waged by more than 60 states,” said Tonoyan. “The problem is a global one and if we stay away we may well be affected by it.”
So far there have been no reports of attacks on Armenian troops or ethnic Armenian civilians in Iraq. The Armenian contingent mainly operates in the relatively calm Shia-populated part of the country.
This might explain why Sergeant Kajik Hovsepian of the transportation unit that will head to Iraq this weekend does not seem daunted by the deployment. “I have no sense of fear,” the 40-year-old father of three told RFE/RL. “I don’t even think about it. If you are scared you shouldn’t leave your home.”
(Photolur photo: Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian bidding farewell to the first group of Armenian servicemen as they prepared to leave for Iraq last January.)