S. Korea approves Iraq troop deployment

/ Source: The Associated Press

South Korea’s parliament on Friday approved extending the mission of its 3,600 troops in Iraq for another year.

The National Assembly approved the plan in a 161-63 vote with 54 abstentions just before the troops’ previous mandate in Iraq expired at midnight.

South Korea completed deploying its forces to the Kurdish town of Irbil last month, becoming the third-largest contributor of troops to the coalition after the United States and Britain. The South Korean contingent is not involved in combat operations and consists mostly of engineers and medics who repair roads and offer free medical services.

The deployment to Iraq has been sensitive, and the South Korean government called for a news blackout on the troops’ movements as they arrived in Iraq, citing security concerns. In early December, President Roh Moo-hyun made a surprise visit to Irbil to encourage the soldiers.

The Seoul government decided in November to extend the deployment for another year until the end of 2005, but that move required parliamentary approval. The vote was delayed repeatedly this month while lawmakers argued over a series of unrelated reform bills, including the ruling Uri Party’s controversial plan to scrap the anti-communist National Security Law.

The parliament postponed a vote on that bill Friday until the new year.

Also Friday, lawmakers approved the national budget for next year ahead of the midnight deadline — averting what would have been the need for an emergency budget for the first time in South Korea’s history.