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Last Updated: Friday, 16 December 2005, 16:55 GMT
Bulgaria pulls troops out of Iraq
Bulgarian troops in Iraq
Bulgarian troops will hand over responsibility to an Iraqi unit
Bulgaria has ended military operations in Iraq and has begun withdrawing its troops, the defence ministry has said.

The pullout was first scheduled to take place earlier this year but was delayed until after Iraq's ballot on Thursday.

The full 400-strong contingent is due back in Bulgaria by 31 December, having lost 13 soldiers and six civilians.

Bulgaria's parliament voted in May to pull its troops out by the end of the year, amid strong public opposition to the country's involvement in the war.

The Bulgarian contingent, stationed in the southern city of Diwaniya, will hand over to an Iraqi unit it has trained, the defence ministry said.

Its statement added that "with the elections conducted, Bulgaria has concluded successfully its mission in Iraq".

Officials said last week that Bulgaria was likely to maintain a humanitarian presence in Iraq by sending 120 non-combat troops to guard the Ashraf refugee camp, 70km (44 miles) north of Baghdad.

The Bulgarian withdrawal coincides with the departure of the remaining Ukrainian forces in Iraq, due to be completed by the end of December.

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