updated 3/22/2005 5:54:13 AM ET 2005-03-22T10:54:13

President Viktor Yushchenko has signed the order for withdrawing Ukraine's troops from Iraq, the head of the country's security council said Tuesday.

Ukraine began pulling out its servicemen from Iraq last week and plans to complete the withdrawal of its 1,650 troops by the end of the year.

Security Council chief Petro Poroshenko told a news conference Tuesday that the president had signed an order making the withdrawal irreversible.

More than 130 soldiers returned home last week, and Ukraine plans to withdraw an additional 550 soldiers from Iraq by May 15 and the rest of the original contingent by the end of the year, the Defense Ministry has said.

Eighteen Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in Iraq and more than two dozen have been wounded, fueling public dismay about the unpopular deployment.

Ukraine strongly opposed the U.S.-led war but later agreed to send a large contingent to serve under Polish command in central and southern Iraq.

The deployment was widely seen as an effort by former President Leonid Kuchma to repair relations with Washington, frayed by allegations that he approved the sale of radar systems to Saddam Hussein's regime in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Ukraine's participation in the U.S.-led coalition is deeply unpopular, but Yushchenko has said Ukraine should keep a presence in Iraq and take part in development and reconstruction efforts there.

The troop pullout was one of the new president's campaign promises.

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