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MPs want to discuss troops before break

Feb 22, 2006
From wire reports

TALLINN - The government wants Parliament to decide before its summer break whether the defense forces' Iraq mission should be extended to next year, turned into a training mission or pulled out from the area altogether.

"It would be sensible to make the decision before Parliament leaves for summer holidays, because in the fall everything will be over shadowed by the presidential elections, and at the end of the year the parties will only be thinking about the approaching general elections," an anonymous government source told the Postimees daily.

Tiit Tammsaar from the ruling People's Union, a long-term chairman of Parliament's national defense committee, thinks it would be sensible if the Estonians in Iraq would focus on training the new government's security forces.

"Naturally, this would be quite understandable. It is a firm conviction of the People's Union that the infantry platoon should be home by Christmas and no new platoon should be dispatched to Iraq," Tammsaar said.

Ivari Padar, chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party, asked whether withdrawing the unit was a responsible move.

"We shouldn't do anything, anything at all, that could add fire to the civil war in Iraq. Besides, a request from the Iraqi government that the Estonian unit should be there is still in effect," Padar said.

Marko Mihkelson from the biggest opposition party, Res Publica, didn't rush to support the withdrawal of soldiers either.

"To say now that Estonia's mission in Iraq will be terminated would be political populism. Before making the decision, we have to see what is happening in Iraq and there is one more very important problem 's developments around Iran, because the situation there is not easing out, but getting tenser," Mihkelson said.

However, he did not rule out the possibility that the Estonians' presence in Iraq could be turned into a mission of training and instruction, and he encouraged the government to give Parliament its proposals concerning the mission's future.

"The matter should certainly be discussed before all the parties are tuned to the election wavelength, and problems of foreign affairs and security could become part of the electoral struggle," Mihkelson said.

Parliament's mandate currently allows Estonia to keep its infantry platoon, serving under the U.S. flag in Iraq, until Christmas.
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