Bulgaria's top diplomat hints at Iraq pullout

Sofia - Bulgaria would consider a pullout of its troops from the international military contingent in Iraq, Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin was quoted as saying Thursday.

"We are analyzing our presence (in Iraq), but believe that our mission is largely accomplished," Kalfin told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.

It was not the first time the pullout is discussed in Sofia - Socialist Premier Sergey Stanishev promised to end the unpopular mission in Iraq already in his election campaign in 2005.

Despite Stanishev's pledge and the 13 casualties suffered in what many Bulgarians feel is not their war, Bulgaria remained among the staunch European supporters of US policy in Iraq and has kept its troops there since August 2003.

Sofia so far only downsized the contingent from more than 500 to 155 and moved it to a safer location in Baghdad.

Bulgaria must decide by the end of November whether to renew the mission in Iraq, or start to end it, possibly replacing the troops with a civilian mission - which is another option that has been brought up by officials in the past.

The Balkan country, which joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007, is due to hold regular parliamentary elections in the middle of 2009, at a date yet to be announced.

Stanishev leads a grand coalition with the conservative National Movement party of former premier Simeon Saxe Coburg-Gotha and the Movement for Rights and Freedom of ethnic Turks since 2005.

Under huge pressure from a new party, headed by the popular former mayor of Sofia, Boyko Borissov, Stanishev and his allies have a few weeks to weigh effects of the Iraq decision on their internal rating, but also on relations with the upcoming administration in Washington. (dpa)

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