S Korea to complete Iraq pullout

South Korea's defence ministry has announced it will pull out the last of its troops from Iraq by December 20, ending what was once the third-largest foreign military presence in the country, reported Aljazeera.

"The plan that's been set up so far is that the unit will hand over its mission to the US military in early December and begin the pullout and by December 20, the pullout back to Korea will be complete," Won Tae-jae, a defence ministry spokesman, said on Wednesday.

The withdrawal will be total and leave no military personnel in Iraq other than a handful of liaison officers, Won said.

There was some media speculation that South Korea may extend its four-year deployment as a favour to its ally, the United States.

The US is re-examining its forces in Iraq after improvements in overall levels of security this year.

South Korea sent 3,600 soldiers to Iraq in 2004, in what was then the largest deployment after the United States and Britain, but has been rolling back troop levels amid public opposition to the mission.

The country now has fewer than 600 troops stationed in the relatively safe Kurdish-controlled town of Arbil in northern Iraq.

The South Korean public is sharply divided over the issue of the deployment of its troops in Iraq.

The government is keen to bolster its ties with the US, which it sees as an important counterbalance to the threat from North Korea.

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