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Georgia plans to cut troops in Iraq to 500 - defense ministry

TBILISI, October 16 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia is planning to reduce the number of its peacekeepers in Iraq from 2,000 to 500 troops in 2008, while enlarging its contingent in Afghanistan, a deputy defense minister said on Tuesday.

Georgia has recently deployed an infantry brigade, totaling 2,000 servicemen, at a military base in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, as part of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Batu Kutelia made the announcement at a session of the parliamentary committee on defense and security.

He said Tbilisi was in talks with NATO on the number of Georgian peacekeepers in Afghanistan, and that the contingent would be limited to "a battalion or less, depending on assigned missions and places of deployment."

The official also asked parliament to approve an increase in the 2008 defense budget from $558 million to $660 million.

"The Defense Ministry sets as priorities for 2008 the development of infrastructure, the improvement of service conditions for military personnel, the modernization of weaponry in line with NATO standards, and the more active participation of the Georgian contingent in peacekeeping operations," the deputy defense minister said.

By actively participating in peacekeeping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Georgia hopes to prove that it can contribute to global security and become a NATO member.

The former Soviet republic, which has a staunchly pro-Washington government, has voiced its ambitions to join NATO ever since the current Georgian leadership came to power after the 2003 "rose revolution."

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