Romania ready to leave troops in Iraq

Bucharest  - Romania is ready to leave its 498 soldiers in Iraq if the Iraqi government asks them to stay, Foreign Minister Lazar Comanescu was quoted Wednesday as saying.

His remark, reported by the Mediafax news agency, came after Defence Minister Teodor Melescanu said in early November that Romania might pull out its remaining troops before year's end.

The UN Security Council mandate for foreign troops in Iraq runs out on December 31.

Romania, a NATO member, is one of several ex-communist East European countries that has kept soldiers with the US-led force in Iraq.

Fifteen non-US countries, led by Britain, make up the dwindling international contingent. Most of the roughly 150,000 troops in Iraq are US soldiers.

Poland, which once commanded a whole sector of Iraq, recently withdrew its last troops. Japan is expected to end nearly five years of airlift support in Iraq under the UN mandate as early as this week. (dpa)