TALLINN, Estonia (AFP)--Estonia has decided not to send a fresh troop contingent to Iraq, ending the involvement of units of up to 40 soldiers in the U.S.-led international mission in Iraq since June 2003, Estonia's defense ministry said Thursday.
"We did not come to an agreement with the Iraqis regarding the question of legal guarantees for Estonian troops," Peeter Kuimet, spokesman to Estonian Defense Ministry, told AFP.
"We wanted similar legal terms for our soldiers to those enjoyed by U.S. troops under the U.S. Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq," Kuimet said.
Estonia's last troop contingent returned home from Iraq in mid-December and a fresh contingent was expected to have been deployed this year.
"Estonia's military mission in Iraq is closed and we have had no unit in Iraq this year and will not send the new one," Kuimet said.
"There are three Estonian officers in Iraq at the moment among the NATO Training Mission-Iraq and they will stay in line with the agreement made between NATO and the Iraqi government," he added.
Late last year Estonia's parliament had formally extended its mission in Iraq, but said it needed to strike an agreement with Baghdad to provide a sound legal basis to continue their mission.
Estonia, an ex-Soviet Baltic republic that joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the E.U. in 2004, was among the few states that had offered to keep a military presence in Iraq in 2009.
It first sent troops to Iraq in 2003, when U.S.-led forces ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
The troops operated under a U.N. Security Council mandate which expired at the end of 2008.
The Iraqi cabinet has approved a bill calling for foreign troops to end their missions by the end of May and pull out definitively by the end of July.
Covered by the U.S.-Iraqi security pact, U.S. forces are an exception and are due to leave in 2011.
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