Sunday, December 21, 2008

Iraq coalition; Erdogan, Medvedev in DC; EU restores Russia ties

First published in November 15, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

U.S.-led coalition members pull troops out of Iraq

Multi-National Force-Iraq insignia.The 7-pointed star represents Iraq's largest communities- Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Yazidis, and Armenians. Source U.S. Dept. of Defense.

With the twilight of the George W. Bush administration and with President-elect Barack Obama having pledged a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, most of the remaining members of the so-called Coalition of the Willing are no longer willing to stay in Iraq.

Since 2003 the coalition had included troops from the three former Soviet republics in the Caucasus, as well as Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine, and the three Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are now members of NATO. Most of these troops have already withdrawn, with 37 Estonians and 20 Moldovans due out by the end of the year.

Azerbaijan became the latest former Soviet republic to announce a pullout, with its president issuing instructions to that effect shortly after the U.S. election. Initially at 150, the Azerbaijani unit currently ­numbers 88 personnel that have served as security guards at a hydroelectric plant.

Although Azerbaijani forces were not reported to have taken part in operations outside the dam perimeter, they did suffer at least one soldier killed last June in apparent fratricide.

Armenia pulled its 46-person unit from near the town of Kut, on the Iraqi-Iranian border, last month. The pullout was timed to the withdrawal of the Polish forces, under whose command Armenians served.

(Poland participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in five years Polish forces lost 21 soldiers, with 70 others wounded, according to U.S. military records cited by AFP.)

The Armenian unit was involved in demining, medical rescue, and logistics operations, suffering one officer seriously wounded in combat. That officer, Sr. Lt. Georgi Nalbandian, has since recovered and returned to active duty with the Armenian armed forces.

Georgia, which earlier this year increased its presence in Iraq to nearly 2,000 soldiers, pulled most of them out during the war with Russia in August with the remainder returning home since then.

Georgians had served in Baghdad and northern Iraq and were due to take over the Polish-led division before their deployment was cut short. Through June 2008, five Georgian soldiers died (three from hostile action, one in an accident, and one in an apparent suicide) and 18 others were wounded.

Ukraine, which in 2003 deployed more than 1,600 of its soldiers in Iraq, pulled out in 2005 after losing 18 soldiers in various incidents. Several dozen Ukrainian officers remain in Iraq as part of NATO advisory mission to the Iraqi government.

And finally Kazakhstan, another former Soviet republic, also withdrew its 29-person unit of de­miners and medics last month.

Kazakhstan, like Armenia, is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization led by Russia, which openly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

But subsequently, Russia dropped objections to U.S. military presence in Iraq. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that Russia would support a renewed United Nations mandate for the American military presence in Iraq.

The current five-year mandate is about to expire and the Bush administration is now negotiating a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government that would keep U.S. forces in the country via bilateral agreement.

World leaders to gather in Washington for economic summit

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan will be among heads of state and government and senior officials from the world's 20 biggest economies who are arriving in Washington on November 14 for a summit called by President Bush.

The summit was called with a stated intention of addressing the global financial crisis, but for some visiting foreign leaders this would also be the first opportunity to meet with key aides of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. Mr. Obama said he would not attend the summit and would not be meeting with any of the summit participants, according to the Washington Post.

Mr. Erdogan reportedly sought a meeting with Mr. Obama to offer mediation between the United States and Iran, while also urging him not to change the U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide. According to Hurriyet, it is unclear if Mr. Erdogan would agree to meet with Mr. Obama's advisors.

According to Referans, Mr. Erdogan also wants to meet with the chair of U.S. Federal Reserve to ask for U.S. financial aid on more preferential terms than are offered by the International Monetary Fund.

The summit will be the first opportunity for a meeting between U.S. and Russian leaders since the war in Georgia last August. Mr. Medvedev told Le Figaro that he already had a "very good conversation" with President-elect Obama, RIA Novosti reported on November 13, and they would "meet will meet without delay and obstruction," although apparently not this week.

Europeans resume talks with Russia over Georgian objections

The European Union (EU) will resume talks with Russia on a "strategic partnership" agreement, which it suspended on September 1 as a punishment for Russian military operations in Georgia.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU chair and had negotiated the Russian-Georgian cease-fire, announced the decision on November 11. Poland and Lithuania expressed public opposition to the decision.

Georgian officials protested and EU officials acknowledged that Russian forces had not returned to positions they held before the Georgian attack against South Ossetia on August 7-8, saying that the EU's talks with Russia in "no way legitimize the status quo in Georgia," with the EU continuing to protest Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in early 1990s.

But in an interview with Le Figaro, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country's decisions "are no joking matters" and could not be revised. Mr. Medvedev added that future Russian military presence in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be regulated on a bilateral basis.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington on November 12, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Russia represented a "challenge" to the West, but he added that "there is no solution to most of today's [global] problems without [Russia], let alone against [Russia]."?

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