Ukraine last week brought home 137 servicemen in the first stage of the withdrawal of a 1600-man force it deployed as part of US-led forces dispatched after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The pullout was to have been completed by 15 October.

But Petro Poroshenko, head of Ukraine's National Security Council, said on Tuesday in Kiev that officials were examining a request to keep remaining forces in Iraq until the end of the year.

"The decision about the final date of withdrawal - October, November, December - will be taken after consultation with our partners," Poroshenko told a news conference.

"We have been asked to examine the possibility of our forces helping overseeing national assembly elections in December."

Talks awaited

The Ukrainian deployment was
meant to ease tensions with US

Parliamentary elections are to take place in December following the appointment of a prime minister and approval of a new constitution by referendum.

Poroshenko said he intended to visit Baghdad at the end of March and President Viktor Yushchenko would discuss the issue during talks in Washington early next month.

Eighteen Ukrainian servicemen have been killed while serving in the contingent, sent to Iraq by former president Leonid Kuchma's administration to ease relations strained by allegations Kiev had sold weaponry illegally to Saddam.

Both Yushchenko and his rival in last year's long presidential election called for troops to return home. Since taking office, Yushchenko has said the pullout must be conducted in consultation with the United States and other allies.

The Ukrainian contingent is one of the largest in a multinational division under Polish command.