Bulgaria starts withdrawing its troops from Iraq

Bulgaria started withdrawing its troops from Iraq on Friday, the Defense Ministry announced, transferring its military responsibilities in the city of Diwaniya to Iraq's government forces. The ministry said that "with the elections conducted, Bulgaria's infantry battalion has concluded successfully its mission in Iraq." Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov said last week that Bulgaria will "most likely" continue its military involvement in Iraq by contributing a 120-strong non-combat unit, starting in the first months of 2006, and staying there for a period of four months. The unit was intended to be tasked with guarding the Ashraf refugee camp. In May, Bulgaria's parliament voted to cut the number of troops in Iraq from 460 to 400 and to continue their deployment through the end of 2005. Officials have said the country will start a pullout after next week's parliamentary elections in Iraq. Bulgaria has lost 13 soldiers in Iraq since it dispatched troops to Iraq in August 2003. Six Bulgarian civilians also died.
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