updated 2/13/2004 1:58:42 AM ET 2004-02-13T06:58:42

South Korea's parliament on Friday approved a plan to send 3,000 troops to Iraq in addition to the 465 military medics and engineers already there.

The troop dispatch, approved in a 155-50 vote, will make South Korea the third-largest contributor to coalition forces after the United States and Britain.

South Korea hopes to send the new forces to the northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk before the end of April. The new deployment, likely to include special forces commandos and combat-ready marines, will be solely responsible for security and reconstruction around oil-rich Kirkuk.

The 465 medics and engineers already there are based in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

South Koreans have been divided over the issue of whether to send troops to Iraq.

Supporters say the dispatch would boost South Korea's military alliance with the United States. President Roh Moo-hyun has said it was important for South Korea to contribute troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to garner U.S. support for peacefully resolving a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Critics say the war in Iraq was unjustified, and have protested near the National Assembly and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

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