This article is part of the research I am conducting for one of my upcoming books - Ukrainian Armed Forces in UN Missions. The book will cover the majority of the missions where a large enough contingent of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was present. The main focus of the book is on the uniforms, weapons, and equipment that were used during these missions, but there will be chapters on the history of the unresolved conflicts and how peacekeepers were involved. You can press the "Notify when available" button to stay updated.
The local politics behind the global issue
The Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent was part of the multinational coalition in Iraq for about two years - from 2003 to 2005. One of the less-known theories of why Ukraine was involved goes like that. According to some observers, the involvement of the Ukrainian forces in the multinational operation in Iraq had an unofficial purpose.
At the time, the former Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, was getting isolated from international politics. He got into such trouble for a reason - there was a series of high-profile political scandals. The joint military effort in the Iraq War was supposed to improve the relations with the Western countries. It is hard to tell if this theory is plausible, as there is quite a lot of evidence suggesting for way more obvious reasons. They will be discussed, in detail, in our upcoming book - Ukrainian Armed Forces in UN Missions.
All in all, after the US military victory over Saddam Hussein's regime, President George W. Bush called on the world community to participate in the "establishment of democracy" in Iraq. President Kuchma, among many other world leaders, offered to send Ukrainian troops to Iraq. At that time, the Verkhovna Rada was almost completely under the control of the president.
Even Viktor Yushchenko's opposition faction "Our Ukraine" supported the idea of deploying troops. Both Kuchma and Yushchenko probably counted on some political benefit from this decision.
The battle participation of the Ukrainians in Iraq
On June 5, 2003, the Verkhovna Rada ratified the presidential decree on the participation of Ukrainian troops in the peacekeeping mission in Iraq. Only factions of communists and socialists voted against it. On August 7, 2003, the dispatch of Ukrainian peacekeepers from Kyiv and Mykolaiv to Iraq and Kuwait began. In response, George Bush promised Ukraine support on the path of integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. The group of Ukrainian troops (the 5th separate mechanized brigade), staffed on a voluntary basis, consisted of 1,600 to 1,800 servicemen.
Ukrainian brigade came under the command of the Center-South multinational division. It was based on the Polish contingent of troops and was stationed in Wasit province, 140 km from Baghdad. Before sending Ukrainian peacekeepers to Iraq, it was not known exactly what they would do. In the Ukrainian community, it was speculated that they would guard oil fields.
Ukrainian servicemen performed tasks in the following settlements: Al-Kut, As-Suwayra, Arafat crossing point (Fort Badra), Iran-Iraq border, Babylon, and Baghdad. Before the redeployment to Iraq in 2003, a group of officers of the division headquarters participated in joint training of multinational forces in Poland, Szczecin.
However, in Iraq, Ukrainians had to participate in hostilities. As a result, by March 2005, 18 soldiers and officers from the Ukrainian contingent were killed, and more than 40 were injured. Sentiments in favor of the withdrawal of troops intensified as the presidential elections approached.
They demanded that the president take a decision on the urgent withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Iraq. As for Leonid Kuchma, he believed that Ukraine should fulfill its commitments. Like other countries of the coalition, but, in the end, he also recognized the need to withdraw troops in connection with the increase in casualties among peacekeepers.
In September 2004, at the height of the presidential campaign, Kuchma sent a candidate he supported, Viktor Yanukovych, to Iraq. In the future, all the political leaders of Ukraine began to talk about the need to withdraw troops - Viktor Yushchenko, Viktor Yanukovych, and Leonid Kuchma. The Security Council of Ukraine, having discussed the problem, supported this opinion.
Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk said in September 2004 that the decision to withdraw troops from Iraq can be considered final:
"I believe that Ukraine has fulfilled its historic mission by taking part in the anti-terrorist operation as part of the coalition forces from the very beginning"
The withdrawal of the Ukrainian contingent from Iraq
Anticipating the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops, the US offered Ukraine to maintain its presence in Iraq in other forms - the Ukrainian military could continue to work in Iraq as military advisers and observers, which was done in 2006.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, said:
"Ukraine's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq will not affect relations between Kyiv and Washington... We are grateful to Ukraine for its participation in the Iraqi operation. While not all countries have expressed such a desire, Ukraine has joined those states that ensure stability in Iraq"
On January 11, 2005, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a resolution in which the president was asked to immediately return Ukrainian peacekeepers to their homeland: "In connection with the dangerous escalation of the military-political situation in Iraq and casualties among Ukrainian servicemen, it is suggested that the further stay of units of the armed forces of Ukraine in the country of Iraq is not viable".
Leonid Kuchma gave instructions to prepare for the withdrawal of troops, and it was assumed that Ukrainian peacekeepers could leave Iraq by the end of spring 2005. But the USA made it clear that the issue of the further stay of the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent in Iraq should be resolved after the new president of Ukraine takes office and the formation of a new government.
The new president, Viktor Yushchenko, said that the Ukrainian public did not understand why Ukrainian peacekeepers were forced to participate in that conflict. The president wanted to demonstrate that he is fulfilling the promises made during the elections.
On March 15, 2005, the gradual withdrawal of the Ukrainian contingent began. The first group of almost 140 men serving in the mechanized company of the 72nd battalion near the city of Essaouira arrived in Mykolaiv on two flights of the Il-76 military transport aircraft. Military equipment was sent back by sea via Kuwait. During the summer and autumn of 2005, about 800 Ukrainian soldiers remained in the Wasit province of Iraq, in the area of responsibility of the Ukrainian contingent of the Center-South multinational division. On December 27, 2005, the last Ukrainian peacekeepers left Iraq. But not the special forces.
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