Over 60 Bulgarian Soldiers
Quit Iraq-Bound Unit (13%)


SOFIA, Bulgaria (Reuters) -- A total of 62 Bulgarian soldiers have quit a peacekeeping unit due to replace troops in Iraq after a car bomb killed five of their compatriots last month, Chief of Staff Nikola Kolev said Wednesday.
The Balkan country, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led military campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein, has sent a 480- strong light infantry battalion to serve in the Polish-led force in Iraq's holy city of Kerbala.
Bulgaria plans to rotate the peacekeepers in Kerbala with another 480 soldiers by mid-February, but dozens of the new unit have decided to abandon the mission after the Kerbala deaths.
State radio quoted Kolev as saying some of the Bulgarian contingent's duties would be taken over by coalition allies because of increased tension among soldiers after the bombing.
He did not say which duties the Bulgarians would give up.
Kolev and President Georgi Parvanov went to a military base in Kazanlak, central Bulgaria, Wednesday to kick off the rotation of Iraq-based troops. The peacekeepers are volunteers from the NATO-candidate country's professional army.
The Kerbala deaths have sparked debate in Bulgaria about security at their base in the Polish sector, with many asking why the troops had not been better protected.
Earlier this month 40 soldiers of the new Iraq-bound unit said they would quit but later their number grew to 62, despite raised payment and Sofia's attempts to boost morale.
Tuesday the government raised daily pay to troops in Kerbala to $82-$90 from $62-$75 after soldiers demanded their compensation be doubled because of higher risk.
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