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South Korean Parliament Extends Military Deployment in Iraq, But Reduces Troop Numbers

South Korean lawmakers have approved a plan to extend the country's military mission in Iraq for another year. However, the number of troops deployed will be cut by a third.

South Korea's National Assembly voted 110 to 31 Friday in favor of continuing to deploy troops as part of the U.S.-led stabilization effort in Iraq.

However, as expected, 1,000 of the 3,200 South Korean military personnel currently in Iraq will come home.

Chaesung Chun, Professor of International Relations at Seoul National University, says the troop deployment is controversial.

Professor Chun says while many South Koreans believe in the importance of Seoul's alliance with the United States, many others feel their troops should not be in Iraq.

South Korean military forces are serving in a non-combat role, building infrastructure in a relatively stable Kurdish region in the north of Iraq.

Seoul has the third largest number of troops in Iraq, after the United States and the United Kingdom.

When President Bush was in South Korea in November, he publicly thanked President Roh Moo-hyun for the Iraq troop deployment. Seoul's plans for the one-third troop reduction became public just one day later, catching senior White House officials by surprise.

The episode drew renewed attention to differences between the Bush and Roh administrations - not just on Iraq but also on their 50-year military alliance.

There has been tension between the allies over how tough to be with North Korea on nuclear disarmament talks and the future of the long-term U.S. troop presence in South Korea.