Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told parliament on Monday Britain will soon deploy a battalion of the Royal Highland Fusiliers "for a limited period of time in support of election security".

By contrast, Ukraine's outgoing leader Leonid Kuchma on Monday ordered his defence minister to draw up a plan for the withdrawal of Kiev's troops in Iraq within six months, the president's office said.

The decision came after an accidental blast killed eight Ukrainian soldiers stationed in the conflict-torn country.

Kuchma ordered his ministers "to immediately start to plan withdrawing Ukraine's contingent from Iraq in the first half of the current year", a statement from the presidency quoted Defence Minister Olexander Kuzmuk as saying after meeting with Kuchma.

The Ukrainian contingent is one of the largest in a multinational division under Polish command, whose numbers have already fallen to just 6000. Poland itself says it will draw down its contingent, which now numbers 2400.