YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush has thanked Armenia for its participation in the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq which came to an end last October.
“The willingness of the Armenian people to support the establishment and strengthening of a democratic government in Iraq, despite great hardships, testifies to their strong spirit. Armenia’s can be proud of their participation in the successful operation to help Iraq secure its freedom,” Bush said in a letter to President Serzh Sarkisian posted on the latter’s website on Tuesday.
“The United States looks forward to pursuing further cooperation with Armenia on other common interests within the South Caucasus region and around the world,” he added.
Armenia deployed about 50 sappers, military doctors and other non-combat personnel in Iraq in early 2005 despite strong domestic concerns about the security of the war-torn country’s small Armenian community. The deployment reflected its growing military ties with the United States. Sarkisian visited Iraq in November 2006 in his then capacity as defense minister.
The Sarkisian government pulled all Armenian servicemen out of Iraq on October 7, citing improved security there and the withdrawal of a much larger Polish army contingent that commanded them. A top Armenian army general said they have accomplished their mission “with honor.”
“I express particular appreciation for the transportation and convoy security, de-mining, and medical support these forces provided,” Bush agreed in his letter.
The letter appeared to have marked Bush’s first-ever direct communication with Sarkisian. The U.S. president pointedly declined to congratulate Sarkisian on his controversial victory in Armenia’s February 2008 presidential election, underlining U.S. misgivings about its freedom and fairness.