By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s government is considering sending military doctors and sappers to Iraq to join the U.S.-led occupation force there, a top military official revealed on Tuesday.
The Armenian embassy in Washington was reported to announce on Monday that official Yerevan has already decided to commit medical officers and a platoon of demining forces for helping hard-pressed U.S and British forces that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein earlier this year. “As a friend and ally of the United States, Armenia has pledged assistance to post-war operations underway in Iraq,” the embassy said in a statement cited by the Armenian Assembly of America.
However, the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan declined to officially confirm the unexpected information, and officials in President Robert Kocharian’s staff could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. According to the chief of staff of the Armenian armed forces, Colonel-General Mikael Harutiunian, no final decision has been made yet.
“We are conducting negotiations with the American side, and this issue has not yet been resolved,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. He said the idea of sending Armenian non-combat military personnel was floated by the U.S. and is currently being considered by Armenia’s “political leadership.”
But the general indicated strongly that the decision is likely to be positive. “We are not against it,” he replied when asked about the opinion of the Armenian military. “Why not? We are ready to help the people of Iraq.”
The development followed last week’s dispatch to Iraq of about 150 peacekeeping soldiers from Armenia’s arch-rival Azerbaijan which provided the first Muslim contingent for the US-led stabilization force made up of troops from over 20 countries. Baku has tacitly backed the U.S. military campaign in Iraq and is regarded by Washington a member of its “coalition of the willing.”
Armenia, by contrast, objected to unilateral military action not mandated by a United Nations resolution. Nevertheless, Armenian leaders welcomed the overthrow of Saddam’s regime and now say that their reluctance to endorse U.S. war plans was motivated by concerns for the security of Iraq’s Armenian community.
“The government of Armenia does not view the Operation Iraqi Freedom as detrimental to Armenia’s national interests,” the Armenian ambassador to the U.S., Arman Kirakosian, said in a recent speech at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Overt support by Armenia for the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq could have had tragic repercussions on our ethnic kinsmen in Iraq; Saddam’s ability and eagerness to punish his own citizens is well known and amply documented.”
The Armenian Assembly, one of the two main Armenian-American lobbying groups, was quick to hail Yerevan’s apparent pledge to join the U.S.-led coalition. “This welcome offer to the United States government underscores the value Armenia places on its relationship with America,” its executive director, Ross Vartian, said in a statement.
General Harutiunian said Armenia would most probably send to Iraq sappers trained at the U.S-funded demining center in the town of Echmiadzin. It was opened in March 2002 with the aim of training and equipping military personnel for demining civilian areas along Armenia’s long border with Azerbaijan. Harutiunian also confirmed reports that the Armenian military will soon assign a permanent liaison officer to the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Florida.