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SLUG: 2-314493 Sokor/Iraq/Troops (L)
TITLE=SOKOR/IRAQ TROOPS (L-ONLY)
INTRO: South Korea is assuring the United States and others with troops in Iraq that it will stand by its commitment to send several thousand personnel there. There has been speculation that Seoul would look for a way to cancel its deployment. Steve Herman reports from Tokyo.
TEXT: Senior South Korean officials, speaking on condition they not be identified, told reporters on Friday the country is pushing ahead with plans to send troops to Iraq. But they said a delay is inevitable, as Washington and Seoul decide on a location other than the Kirkuk region, which has been deemed too volatile for the South Korean force.
The comments come as the government attempts to quell speculation that it wants to delay the mission, until after next month's parliamentary elections.
Chun In-young is a Seoul National University professor of politics. He says, although terrorism fears have risen following deadly train bombings in Madrid two weeks ago, South Korea is not going to risk losing international credibility by going back on its word.
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We decided to send troops - over 36-hundred. So, we are concerned, and we worry. We're really worried, because anybody, any country can be a target of terrorism. Anyway, our commitment is made already, so there will be no change.
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Government officials on Friday called the troop dispatch a "done deal," despite the recent impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun and the hotly contested April 15th parliamentary election.
The South Korean troops had planned to take over relief and security duties next month around Kirkuk, north of Baghdad.
Officials in Seoul say the plan was complicated by the U-S military's desire to keep combat troops in that area. South Korean officials say that runs counter to legislation restricting its troops to peacekeeping and reconstruction work.
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The force will make South Korea the biggest coalition partner in Iraq behind the United States and Britain. About 500 South Korean medics and engineers have been in Iraq for nearly a year, and will return home when the full contingent arrives.
South Korea boosted security last week because of worries it could become a terrorism target for supporting the U-S-led occupation in Iraq. Two weeks ago, terrorists set off bombs on Spain's rail system, killing more than two hundred people. The newly elected Spanish government is now considering pulling its troops out of Iraq.
Many South Koreans oppose the Iraq mission, but supporters of it say it is important for Seoul to support Washington, because the two governments need to work together to resolve the crisis over communist North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. (SIGNED)
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