Friday, March 11, 2005

Estonia in Iraq

As many of you know, I have a lot of friends in Estonia, made through my 10+ years of working with software development teams there. Several of these friends are interested in world politics, and I have a spotty correspondence with them on such topics. Iraq has been one of the key topics, and by-and-large my Estonian friends' attitude resembles that of our angry left — they're convinced we went into Iraq to get the oil, Bush is stupid, and so on. The familiar rant.

So I've been halfway expecting that they're representative of their country, and that as a result Estonia would withdraw their contingent of soldiers from Iraq. Ah, perhaps you didn't know there were Estonians in Iraq? Been listening to too much TV, or reading the New York Times? The Estonians have been at our side since the invasion. Their numbers are small in absolute terms, to be sure (55 soldiers, currently) — but in relative terms, that's actually a fairly large contingent. In terms of relative populations, that's equivalent to over 1,000 American soldiers — but relative to the sizes of our military forces, the Estonians are actually fielding a higher percentage, as their military forces are quite modest in size, as is befitting the small size of their country.

But as you can see in the news story I've posted in its entirety below, the Estonians are not withdrawing. They've just "re-upped" for another year. Hooray for them! It's possible that my "sample" of friends is not representitive (most of them happen to be ethnic Russians, and they are a minority in Estonia), or it could be that the politicians are simply doing the right thing. Whatever the reason, I applaud the Estonian government for standing tall at our side in Iraq.

TALLINN, March 10 (Itar-Tass) -- The Estonian government has decided to extend for another year the stay of its military contingent in Iraq. This decision has been made in response to the request of the head of the Iraqi interim government and is prompted by the need to continue the process of stabilization and construction of a democratic state in Iraq.

Some 55 Estonian servicemen now stay in the Persian Gulf area. Their stay expires on June 20, 2005. Under the government’s decision there will be 15 men less in the new shift. This reduction in the numerical strength is due to the fact that the Estonian military will no longer handle the cargoes for Iraq arriving at the airfields in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The government’s decision needs parliament’s endorsement. The decision will most probably be supported by the majority coalition, which holds 58 sets in parliament out of the 101. A considerable part of the opposition has earlier supported the majority on this matter but the number of those opposed to Estonian presence in Iraq has been on the rise of late since two Estonian soldiers were killed in Iraq last year.

Those of you who were conscious before the fall of the Soviet Union might be a little amused by the "TASS" in the dateline. My, how our world has changed!

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