Georgia begins boosting Iraq contingent to 2,000

A group of Georgian servicemen departed Monday for Kuwait as the ex-Soviet republic began boosting its contingent in Iraq from 850 to 2,000 troops. The increase, approved by parliament last month, underscores the Georgian leadership's dedication to cultivating close ties with the United States. President Mikhail Saakashvili has courted the West and sought to lessen the influence of neighboring giant Russia. All the additional troops are expected to be in Iraq by July 23, Georgian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Nana Intskirveli said. The contingent of 2,000 will be involved in peacekeeping operations in Kut, 160 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, according to the ministry.