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Reporter's Notebook: A Day In The Life Of Georgian Peacekeepers

AL-KUT, Iraq -- On most evenings, Sergeant Gocha Petriashvili uses his free time to call his relatives in Georgia.

Petriashvili makes sure to frequently reassure his family about his well-being. Speaking to his son one evening, he only has one complaint. "I'm alright.... It's hot here, very hot. That's the only thing bothering me," Petriashvili says. "I don't need anything, neither food nor drinks. Only this heat is unbearable. And I miss all of you. That's all."

Petriashvili and his compatriots are stationed at the Delta military base, located in Wasit Governorate near the regional capital of Al-Kut. The contingent of 2,000 peacekeepers, increased from 850 last year, makes Georgia the third-biggest contributor to the war in terms of troop numbers, trailing only the United States and Britain, and the largest contributor of troops in relation to the country's own population.

Wasit Governorate, which borders Iran, is classified as a "red zone" -- a particularly restive area where increased security measures are enforced. From the Delta base, one battalion of Georgian peacekeepers is dispatched to Baghdad's Green Zone and another to the Qlear military base.

Every day at dawn, a column of armored Humvees adorned with Georgian flags leaves the Delta base. The soldiers patrol the streets, search cars, and, several times a month, carry out humanitarian operations in the region to help the most destitute.

The routine is monotonous, and soldiers say time moves very slowly. Each patrolling mission is nonetheless treated as a serious military assignment and preceded by detailed instructions. On this day, it's Lieutenant David Kobiashvili who is preparing soldiers for the next tour of duty.

Smoke rises from an explosion just beyond the perimeter of Delta Base
"If, let's say, there is an explosion coming from the right, you shall go there, stand on the right side, assess the medical situation -- whether there are any wounded, or, God forbid, [any dead] -- and you will give me a full report so I can pass it on to the headquarters," Kobiashvili tell the troops.

Over the past two months, explosions have claimed the lives of three Georgian troops -- Corporal Zurab Gvenetadze, Lieutenant Giorgi Margiev, and Sergeant Irakli Kordzaia. They are the only combat fatalities among Georgian servicemen in Iraq, although two others have died there -- one was killed in a car crash and the other committed suicide.

The chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, General Zaza Gogava, recently paid tribute to the three soldiers killed in action during his July 17 visit to the Qlear military base, where the slain soldiers' battalion is stationed.

"This is precisely the section of the battalion that sustained the loss. I would like to thank them because despite the pain and loss they have suffered, you can see how motivated they are," Gogava said. "My dear boys, I want to thank you again. I'll say it one more time, everything you do fills me with honor and pride."

'No Worries'

That day was business as usual for the Georgian medics who work at Delta base's military hospital, treating soldiers as well as Iraqi civilians.

Lieutenant Nino Chkhenkeli, a doctor, has already treated dozens of Iraqis. She says respiratory problems and skin burns are the most widespread health problems among her Iraqi patients.

Chkhenkeli has left her parents and a teenage daughter behind in Georgia. Her daughter's support, she says, gives her the strength to overcome the hardships of life in Iraq. "I have one daughter, she's in Tbilisi now. She's 13 years old. She keeps telling me: 'Mom, I know you're there for my sake.' The fact that she is so wonderful is everything to me. I have no worries or concerns; I would even be able to go beyond Iraq," Chkhenkeli said.

The Georgian brigade, which constitutes almost half of the multinational forces stationed at the Delta base, ends its workday at 6 p.m. Most Georgian soldiers then hurry to the canteen for dinner. Despite the language barrier, they have been quick to befriend the other soldiers at the base, who come from the United States, El Salvador, Kazakhstan, and Uganda, and the Georgians seen as among the friendliest coalition members.

After dinner, the soldiers have a few hours of spare time, which is usually spent watching Georgian television channels, playing computer games, and calling relatives in Georgia.

It has been six months since they last saw their families, and they are unlikely to be sent home any time soon. Under the current agreement, Georgian peacekeepers will stay in Iraq until the end of the year.

Georgia's political establishment is proud of the country's military participation in international missions. Tbilisi recently announced plans to send 400 troops to Afghanistan to help NATO-led forces.

The missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as indication that Georgia is on its way to becoming a full-fledged member of the Western community -- a goal that has been a cornerstone of Tbilisi's foreign policy.

As Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia told RFE/RL's Georgian Service, that goal has its price. "If a country wishes to be part of the Euro-Atlantic security system, to use and benefit from membership in that system, it must contribute to it as well," Kutelia said.

Georgian Peacekeepers In Iraq

Photo Gallery

Georgian Peacekeepers In Iraq

A slideshow from the daily life of Georgian troops deployed in Wasit Governorate

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