SOFIA, Bulgaria, March 17 -- Bulgaria intends to cut the number of its troops in Iraq in July and to completely pull them out by the end of the year, the defense minister said Thursday.
"By the end of March, we will present in parliament a draft decision for a gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of 2005," Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov told reporters. Parliament has the final say on troop deployments abroad.
Svinarov declined to elaborate but said that after the current 460-member battalion ended its mission in July, the next contingent would be "downsized by 100 troops."
Svinarov also said that as of 2006, Bulgaria will have only five military instructors in Iraq as part of NATO's training mission and "will boost its civil presence there."
On Tuesday, President Georgi Parvanov also called for a partial withdrawal of the country's troops from Iraq and for "a dignified pullout" by the year's end.
Bulgaria's infantry battalion is based in the Iraqi city of Diwaniyah and serves under Polish command.
The Balkan country, which joined NATO last year, has lost seven soldiers in bomb attacks and shootouts with insurgents. An eighth soldier was killed two weeks ago by U.S. troops in a friendly fire incident.
The latest death fueled public demands for a complete withdrawal, and recent opinion polls showed that more than 60 percent of Bulgarians oppose the country's military involvement in Iraq.