Iraq offers soldiers for quake relief

Iraq has announced plans to send several hundred soldiers from its new army to help relief efforts in Pakistan after the South Asian earthquake.

    "It is an engineering battalion, well-trained and equipped
    to relieve the Pakistanis who face a humanitarian disaster which caused the death of thousands people," Lieutenant General Babkir Zibari told a news conference.

    He said that the unit would depart as soon as Pakistan accepted the offer of help.

    The October 8 earthquake killed more than 55,000 people and left many more homeless. 

    Iraq's army has been undergoing a complete rebuild since it was disbanded after the March 2003 US-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein, and Zibari said this would be the first time it had participated in a humanitarian mission of this kind.

    The army now counts more than 100,000 troops in about 100 battalions, but it still lacks equipment and many of the soldiers are still being trained by the US-led multinational forces in Iraq.

    Iraqi soldiers are in the front line battling an insurgency against the Shia- and Kurdish-led government and its US backers.

    "Despite the security situation we are about to carry out this mission and I hope that this mission will end in success," Zibari said.

    He did not say exactly how many soldiers would form the team, but he said it was a special unit formed some time ago that had been trained by German forces in Dubai.

    "We have made progress on the equipment front with the help of the multinational forces in Iraq. We ask God to lead us in this mission," he added. 

    Relief workers in Pakistan are racing to save hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were devastated by the quake.

    They fear as many people will die of hunger and exposure during the bitter winter as in the October 8 quake which killed at least 54,000 people in Pakistan and 1300 in Indian Kashmir. 

    Roads and mountain paths in the region have been swept away by landslides, hampering relief efforts, and aid officials have criticised the international community for being too slow to come up with the cash needed to keep survivors alive.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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