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Georgia Vows To Maintain Iraq, Afghan Commitments

Georgian soldiers returning from Iraq on August 11
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Georgia will keep pledges to field troops in Western peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Iraq despite Russia's crushing of its military during the South Ossetia war, a top official has said.

"We will still keep our commitments to have our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is very important to our country," Georgian parliament chairman David Bakradze told a news conference in Brussels.

"We hope our allies and other friendly countries will help us to recover our infrastructure," he added.

Georgia withdrew all of its 2,000 soldiers in Iraq last month after the outbreak of the five-day war over breakaway South Ossetia, but a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said Tbilisi was "considering further participation in operations in Iraq."

She said Georgia had one military doctor in Afghanistan but had been considering sending more than 100 soldiers to join the NATO-led force there before the conflict with Russia.

Georgian participation in Western peacekeeping is one of the core arguments used by Tbilisi in its bid to join NATO -- a goal which Moscow vehemently opposes.

The Western military alliance is due to assess in December whether Georgia and Ukraine should be granted a Membership Action Plan (MAP) putting the two ex-Soviet states on the road to entry of the pact.

NATO said Georgia needed to continue political economic and military reforms if it wanted to secure a MAP, and this had been the key message of a vist to Tbilisi by alliance Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer this week.

"The current crisis cannot be a distraction from or an excuse to not push forward...with reform," James Appathurai told a regular NATO briefing.