BAGHDAD, Jan. 10 -- The government of Ukraine, acting a day after an explosion killed eight of its soldiers in Iraq, announced Monday that it would withdraw its 1,650-member force by the middle of 2005.
Ukraine has been moving for months toward pulling out its forces, but officials have remained vague about dates; Monday's statement, which followed a meeting between President Leonid Kuchma and his defense and foreign ministers, gives new firmness to those intentions.
The blast occurred as the troops were loading an explosive onto a truck in Suwayrah, 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. One Kazakh was also killed. The Islamic Army in Iraq, an insurgent group, asserted responsibility for the blast, which was first reported as an accident but is now being investigated as an attack.
Ukraine's contingent is the fourth-largest in the U.S.-led military coalition and operates under Polish command in southern Iraq. Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed in previous incidents.
An announcement posted on Kuchma's Web site said his expected successor, Viktor Yushchenko, would address the issue of troop withdrawal after taking office. Yushchenko moved closer to inauguration when Ukraine's election commission late Monday declared him the winner of a Dec. 26 vote.
In Baghdad on Monday, gunmen assassinated the city's deputy police chief, Brig. Amer Nayef, and his son, according to Sabah Kadim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
The two were in the Dora area, on their way to work, "when armed men on 60th Street ambushed them and sprayed bullets on the car," Kadim said.
By Kadim's account, Nayef and his son, also a police officer, did not have the personal guards commonly used by senior Iraqi officials, who have been relentlessly targeted by insurgents in recent months.
Baghdad's governor was killed last week by insurgents attempting to disrupt elections scheduled for Jan. 30, when Iraqis are to vote for members of a 275-member National Assembly. Violence has been particularly frequent in areas populated by Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, preventing many people from registering to vote.
Also on Monday, two U.S. soldiers in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle were killed and four were wounded in southwest Baghdad by a roadside bomb, the military said in a statement. The armored vehicle was the second destroyed in a week, suggesting that insurgents are using increasingly powerful explosives. Seven soldiers inside a Bradley were killed last week when a roadside bomb exploded under it.
On Monday, a suicide attacker killed at least four Iraqi police officers by detonating explosives in his car in the courtyard of the Zafarniyah police station in southern Baghdad, police said.
A group calling itself Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, said in a statement posted on a radical Islamic Web site that it was behind the assassination of the deputy police chief and warned that other Iraqi officials would suffer a similar fate.
In the city of Baiji, the police chief escaped an assassination attempt by men who ambushed his convoy on the road to Tikrit, said police Capt. Salman Nouri, 33, who was in the second vehicle in the convoy. "I heard a very big explosion and saw the car in front us spinning around," Nouri said. "After this I heard shooting. The insurgents started to shoot at us."
After the ambush, the police shot into the air, eyewitnesses said, killing Ahmed Muhammed, 15, a passerby.