Parliament passed with 145 to two votes a proposal to increase troop levels in Iraq from the current 850 to 2,000 on June 8, making Georgia one of the biggest contributors to US-led operations in terms of per capita troop deployment.
The additional troops will be deployed in the province of Wasit to patrol the city of Al Kut, which is 185 kilometers south-east of Baghdad, and the border with Iran, Dimitri Kitoshvili, the president’s spokesperson told lawmakers during hearings on June 8. They will be part of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.
“Apart from the increased numbers, the character and quality of the operation is also changing,” Kitoshvili said.
He explained that Georgian commanders “will be involved in the decision-making process in relation to operations on the ground.”
Currently, Georgian servicemen in Iraq are deployed in Baghdad and Baqubah, a city 50 km to the northeast of the Iraqi capital.
“Their major task currently is to guard various facilities there. But with the new deployment the task will be changed as well. Our brigade-size unit will be deployed on the Iranian border and its major task will be patrolling and fighting smuggling,” Kitoshvili said.
In an interview with RFE/RL Georgian Service in May, Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili said that the Georgian units in the Wasit region would be in charge of preventing arms trafficking.
“There is certain information available according to which weapons are smuggled from Iran into Iraq via this [Wasit] province and currently there is no reaction to this [smuggling of arms]. But the Georgian soldiers will have to react to this, which means that a certain level of tension will be triggered,” Kezerashvili said.
Speaking in Parliament on June 8, Kitoshvili said that Wasit was at the moment “one of the calmest provinces in Iraq,” but “an increase in the number of our soldiers in itself means an increase in certain risks.”
Georgian soldiers serving in Iraq are paid between USD 1,100 and USD 3,000 a month, Kitoshvili said.
“Approximately two thirds of this amount is paid by the American side,” he added.
He also said that there was “a huge motivation” among the Georgian soldiers to serve in Iraq “both because of their future military careers and because of financial reasons.”
A total of 18 Georgian servicemen have been injured in Iraq since the first deployment in August 2003.
Lawmakers from the ruling party described Georgia’s decision to boost its presence in Iraq as a move of “huge political importance” in support of Georgia’s strategic partner, the United States.
Most opposition lawmakers were supportive, but cautious at the same time.
Ivliane Khaindrava, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican Party, said during the hearings that “the decision puts a huge responsibility” on every MP.
“Because this decision is directly linked to the lives of our soldiers,” Khaindrava said.
He said that, although he would support the proposal, it was important to understand why the government was taking this decision, especially in light of increasing international criticism of the U.S.-led operation in Iraq.
“Let’s imagine a conversation at NATO headquarters in Brussels: The Americans say it is high time to give NATO Membership Action Plan to Georgia… But in response some Europeans, lets say Dutch or Italian politicians, say: we can not open NATO's doors to a country which fails to honor the rule of law, human rights or property rights. The Americans reply: while you are pulling out your troops from Iraq, the Georgians are sending more servicemen there. Shouldn’t we take it into consideration? It is really difficult to respond to this question, or to downplay this argument,” Khaindrava said.
“So my conclusion is that the Georgian authorities are compensating for shortcomings in respect of the rule of law and human rights by increasing our troop levels in Iraq. It is really a pity, because we would not have faced such a difficult decision if the situation were better with the rule of law and human rights in Georgia,” he added.
Gocha Jojua and Giorgi Tsulaia from the National Forum party voted against the proposal. Jojua said that it was not clear what Georgia would receive in exchange for its contribution.
Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze, on the other hand, hailed the decision as “an important message” to the world.
“Georgia knows the price of peace and stability and knows the price of friendship as well. We appreciate the support of our friends,” she said after the vote.