World News

All South Korea troops to leave Iraq by end of '08

South Korean soldiers wave to their colleagues arriving at a checkpoint of a base in Irbil, Iraq in this picture taken September 6, 2004. REUTERS/South Korean Ministry of National Defence/Handout

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea, which once had the third-largest foreign military contingent in Iraq, will pull all of its troops out off the country on schedule by the end of this year, a military official said on Friday.

Local media had reported the South may extend its deployment again as a favor to its major ally, the United States, which is re-examining its forces in Iraq after improvements in overall levels of security this year.

Defense ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told a news briefing that when the deployment was extended by one year in December 2007, it was on the condition that the pullout would be completed by the end of 2008.

“And there is no change whatsoever to the plan that everyone in the (unit) would withdraw by the year end,” he said.

South Korea sent 3,600 soldiers to Iraq in 2004, which was then the largest foreign military presence after the United States and Britain. It has been rolling back its troop level under public pressure against the mission.

It now has fewer than 600 troops stationed in a relatively safe area in the Kurdish north of the country.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Paul Tait