By Astghik Bedevian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian is likely to ask the National Assembly to extend the stay of Armenia’s small peacekeeping contingent in Iraq at the last four-day session of parliament this year.
Meanwhile, parliamentary forces appear to have differences on this issue.
Armenia’s two major parties making up the ruling coalition are likely to vote differently on the issue when it comes up in early December.
The Republican Party (HHK) has signaled that it will support the government proposal to extend the stay of Armenia’s 46 troops serving with U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
HHK parliamentary faction leader Galust Sahakian said it is important for Armenia to continue its participation in the “world security process.”
“We cannot remain outside the systems ensuring world security. We must continue to carry out these functions as well,” he told RFE/RL.
The senior HHK member claimed that the defense minister’s proposal enjoys the support of most political forces represented in the Armenian parliament, as they, according to him, understand the importance of the mission.
Meanwhile, the Republicans’ junior coalition partner, Dashnaktsutyun, has not changed its position that Armenian deployment in Iraq threatens the security of thousands of ethnic Armenians living there.
“Our position has always been known to you,” the leader of the party’s faction in parliament, Hrair Karapetian, said. “We explained our position to our coalition partners.”
Dashnaktsutyun was one of the two parliamentary factions along with the opposition Artarutyun alliance that voted against the decision on the controversial deployment of a small Armenian army unit of peacekeepers in Iraq when it was voted on in 2004.
Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian says they will oppose the extension of the mission’s term.
“Attaching importance to [Armenia’s] relations with the U.S., we are against the prolongation of the mission when the UK already decided to withdraw its troops and when it is apparently only a matter of time for the U.S. to withdraw its military from Iraq,” Demirchian said.
The opposition National Unity party, which voted for the decision in 2004, is still undecided, according to its leader Artashes Geghamian.
Speaking in Yerevan on Wednesday after returning from a visit to Iraq, where he met with the troops, Iraqi defense officials and officials of the U.S.-led coalition, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian expressed a hope that the parliament would approve an extension of the deployment.