Thursday, June 4, 2009

Romanian President In Iraq To Mark Troop Departure

NASIRIYAH, Iraq (AFP)--Romanian President Traian Basescu was in Iraq Thursday for a handover ceremony to mark the end of his nation's military mission in the war-torn country.

He joined senior Iraqi army officers at a military base near Nasiriyah, 350 kilometers south of the capital Baghdad.

"You played an important role in Iraq, and I thank all Romanian soldiers for leaving your families and putting your lives at risk," Basescu said at the ceremony, which marked the start of a total pullout of Romanian troops.

The 350-strong Romanian contingent, part of the U.S.-led coalition, has been engaged in logistics and training duties. It is scheduled to leave by July 31 under a bilateral agreement signed in January.

The Iraqi army's chief of staff, Gen. Babaker Zebari, praised the efforts of multinational and Romanian forces, which he said had helped "Iraq get rid of the previous regime."

"Iraqi forces are ready, with the help of friendly forces, to take responsibility for security in Iraq," Zebari added.

Only U.S., Romanian, U.K. and Australian troops remain in Iraq as part of the coalition that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

U.S. combat troops are scheduled to pull out of Iraqi cities and major towns by June 30, a key step in a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.

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