updated 1/11/2005 5:50:04 AM ET 2005-01-11T10:50:04

The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday called for an immediate withdrawal of the nation’s peacekeepers from Iraq.

Ukraine, whose 1,650 troops are the fourth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq, had previously expressed its intention to withdraw this year.

On Monday, President Leonid Kuchma ordered the foreign and defense ministries to develop a plan for withdrawing Ukraine’s troops from Iraq within the first half of 2005.

The parliament, during a live television broadcast, called on Kuchma to immediately issue a decree on withdrawal of the troops.

The parliament’s call came two days after eight Ukrainian soldiers died in an explosion at an ammunition dump in Iraq, which was reported as an accident rather than as the result of hostile action.

In all, 16 Ukrainian soldiers have died in Iraq.

The withdrawal could be a significant symbolic blow for the U.S-led operation, not only because of the Ukrainian contingent’s size but because of the country’s reputation for eagerly participating in dangerous peacekeeping missions.

It was a major component of the ill-fated peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-95 and Ukraine currently has peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. Kuchma recently endorsed sending troops to take part in the United Nations observer mission in the Golan Heights.

Ukraine strongly opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq, but later agreed to send troops in an apparent effort to patch up relations frayed by allegations that Kuchma had approved the sale of radar systems and other military equipment to Saddam Hussein’s regime in contravention of U.N. sanctions.

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