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S. Korea OK's Iraq troop reduction

Parliament backs bill to cut force by one-third in '06

SEOUL -- South Korea's parliament approved a bill yesterday to cut by about one third the size of its troop deployment in Iraq, the third-largest foreign contingent there.

The unicameral National Assembly voted by 110 to 31 to extend the country's troop deployment in the northern Iraqi region of Arbil by one year until the end of 2006 but cut the contingent to 2,300 from 3,200. Seventeen members abstained.

The United States has the largest contingent of foreign troops in Iraq and Britain the second largest.

The country's commitment to its alliance with the United States was a key reason for extending the mission, the government-submitted bill said.

''We believe the deployment will contribute to peace and reconstruction of Iraq, stability in the Middle East and to reaffirming the South Korea-US alliance," ruling Uri Party member Ahn Young-keun told the assembly in proposing the bill.

In Washington, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, an Army spokesman, said: ''Each nation examines multiple factors in considering the nature and extent of their contribution, including the conditions in Iraq."

''The continued Korean contribution to OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) is significant and appreciated," he said in a written statement.

South Korea has about 690,000 troops, a large force meant to deter North Korea, whose military is more than one million strong.

There are also some 30,000 US troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Despite lingering opposition from liberal Uri Party members and antiwar groups, President Roh Moo-hyun has consistently backed the Iraq deployment.

The troops will remain in Iraq as long as they are needed under the mission set out by US-led coalition forces, he has said.

Progress in rebuilding Iraq prompted the reduction, the government has said.

The cut, which will begin in early 2006, could drop South Korea's unit to the fourth largest after Italy.

Italy has said it will reduce its 2,900 troops in Iraq by 10 percent in January and plans to pull out its troops by the end of 2006.

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