Following in the footsteps of Ukraine and Georgia, Azerbaijan sent its military contingent to Iraq on August 13. The contingent is not big – 150 servicemen. The press service of the Defense Ministry of the Republic of Azerbaijan said that Azerbaijanian soldiers will serve in Kirkuk, Najaf and Karbala where many Turkomans live. It should be noted that Azerbaijan has become the second Muslim nation, which intends to defend Washington’s interests in the Middle East (Turkey is the first one). The peacekeepers will protect Muslim sacred places and a range of important objects in Iraq.
It should be noted that 120 soldiers, 14 ensigns and 16 officers will become part of the US contingent. Ramiz Najafov. Head of the military cooperation department of the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan, stated that the US will cover Azerbaijan’s expenses ($3.5 million). Azerbaijanian peacekeepers will move to Iraq via Kuwait. Azerbaijan and Kuwait signed an agreement on the status of Azerbaijanian troops in Kuwait on June 27, 2003.
It was supposed that Azerbaijanian peacekeepers would go to Iraq in May. However, the departure date was postponed for an uncertain period. Many analysts connected that decision with pressure from Moscow. Russia allegedly was displeased by the fact that servicemen of post-Soviet republics intended to go to Iraq. However, Baku has finally made a pro-American decision to send its soldiers to Middle East. It is not ruled out that the decision was lobbied by Heidar Aliyev’s son.
The departure of Azerbaijanian servicemen to Iraq may be linked with pressure from the US. The US “purchased” Azerbaijan. Judging from official reports, the US has allocated $11.5 million for security projects and $6.5 million for developing law enforcement agencies to Azerbaijan over the past three years. However, it seems that this is not enough for Baku. Unlike Georgia, it demands money for flights of NATO and US warplanes involved in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over its territory. The Azerbaijanian media reported in June that the US intended to send 15,000 servicemen from Germany to Azerbaijan. Baku has already stated that it does not know anything about Washington’s intention. The US ambassador to Baku has denied such reports either. Meanwhile, unofficial sources note that Azerbaijan has repeatedly proposed the US and Turkey to deploy their military contingents on the Apsheron peninsula and in the zone of the Azerbaijanian-Armenian conflict.
As is known, Ukrainian and Georgian peacekeeping contingents went to Iraq in early August. A Georgian unit went to Iraq on August 3. The Georgian peacekeeping contingent consists of 34 troopers of the Task Force, 20 military doctors and 15 military engineers. The Ukrainian contingent looks more impressive. Kiev sent a brigade to Iraq: 1,800 Ukrainian troopers will provide security in the Iraqi province of Vasit. They will patrol two important roads, escort humanitarian cargo, and protect a 120-km sector of the border with Iran and special objects such as trains with ammunition of the former Iraqi Army. In addition a Ukrainian radiation, chemical and bacteriological protection battalion has been deployed in Kuwait. Ukrainian, Georgian and Azerbaijanian troopers will assume their duties on September 1. The Ukrainian contingent will replace a US marine battalion. It is supposed that Moldovan and Uzbek logistic platoons will arrive in Iraq. Other CIS nations do not intend to send their contingents to Iraq yet.