SLUG: 2-313073 S. Korea / Iraq Troops (L)
TITLE=S. KOREA /IRAQ TROOPS (L)
INTRO: Despite widespread public opposition, South Korea's parliament has overwhelmingly approved the dispatch of 3-thousand troops to Iraq. Steve Herman reports from Tokyo.
TEXT: Following months of debate and a voting delay of several days, South Korea's National Assembly - by a three-to-one margin - approved sending a large second contingent of troops to Iraq.
The dispatch marks the first time South Korea has sent combat forces overseas since the Vietnam War.
Government officials say the contingent, which is likely go to Iraq before the end of April, will be composed of about 14-hundred special forces commandos,
combat-ready marines and other troops. About 16-hundred military engineers will also be sent.
South Korea earlier dispatched some 465 medics and army engineers to the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
The South Korean force will become the third-largest coalition component in Iraq, behind the United States and Britain. The new troops are to provide security and aid reconstruction in and around Kirkuk, an oil center in the northern part of the country.
/// OPT /// The Defense Ministry says that in advance of the dispatch, the troops will undergo Arabic language training and learn about Iraqi culture. The contingent will be known as "Zayituun" - the Arabic word for "olive." /// END OPT ///
South Korean news media quote ministry officials as saying the dispatch could cost as much as 200-million dollars.
Opponents of the dispatch, who have been protesting near the National Assembly and the U-S Embassy, say South Korea should not support the multi-national coalition because the U-S-led invasion of Iraq was unjustified.
Supporters say it is important for South Korea to show support for its military alliance with the United States.
President Roh Moo-hyun has said that by cooperating in Iraq, South Korea will better be able to argue with the Bush Administration for a peaceful resolution of the stand-off over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. (SIGNED)
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