Senators: Withdraw Thai troops from Iraq

BANGKOK: A group of senators on Tuesday urged the government to immediately withdraw Thai troops from Iraq, fearing they could become victims of bomb attacks following the string of blasts that shook Baghdad earlier in the week.  

Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs, said the panel was seriously concerned about the situation in Iraq and wanted Thai military personnel posted there to return home as soon as possible.  

“The war is still ongoing. The recent bombings clearly show that the United States does not have control of the situation in Iraq and that the violence is likely to get worse,” he said.  

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, however, said there would be no withdrawal of Thai troops for the time being.  

“They are in another city (Karbala) that is safe, on a rehabilitation mission that will not cause problems for us,” he said. 

The Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was one of several buildings targeted in Monday’s attacks, which killed 43 people, including two ICRC staff, and injured over 200. 

The attacks have shaken the confidence of international organisations taking part in the reconstruction of Iraq.  

The ICRC is considering whether to evacuate all foreign staff. 

Thailand dispatched 443 soldiers to Iraq late last month.  

Tasked with providing humanitarian and technical assistance, the troops are stationed at Camp Lima in Karbala, about 160km south of Baghdad. 

The contingent – which includes engineers, medical teams, a surveillance platoon and civil affairs operations – is on a six-month tour of duty. 

Lt-Col Kemara Kanchanawat, director of the Supreme Command’s Directorate of Joint Operations, said the situation near Camp Lima appeared considerably safer than in Baghdad but noted that downtown Karbala was potentially quite dangerous as US and Polish soldiers had recently been killed.  

“There are pro-Saddam groups in Karbala and it is possible they could carry out violent attacks,” he said.  

Bangkok Senator Wallop Tangkananurak said: “The government must ensure the safety of Thai soldiers. This is a sensitive issue as it involves human lives.”  

Campaign for Popular Democracy secretary-general Suriyasai Katasila said he would file a petition to the Constitution Court to rule whether dispatching troops to Iraq violated Articles 223 and 224 which covered declarations of war and changes in Thai jurisdiction respectively.  

Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Defence Minister Thamarak Isarangura were expected to clarify to the Senate committee today Thailand’s status as a major non-Nato ally of the US and the decision to dispatch troops to Iraq. – The Nation/Asia News Network 

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