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[Opinion] Zaytun Division’s Return

Posted September. 22, 2008 08:48,   


Korea’s Zaytun Peace and Reconstruction Division in Arbil, northern Iraq, has made a great contribution to the Kurdish community there. For example, it completed building its 61st school in July and a 2.8-kilometer road costing 470 million won (412,000 U.S. dollars) was opened last month. The list does not stop there. The military unit built a crime investigation bureau for 1.3 billion won (1.1 million dollars) whose authority was transferred to the locals in August. A technology training center set up by Zaytun also welcomed their 16th incoming class Sept. 1. Furthermore, the troops helped six Kurdish children with congenital heart disease travel to Korea to receive crucial surgery this week. As anyone can guess from their list of contributions, the division offered services comparable to those of an international aid organization rather than those of combat forces dispatched from another country.

The division is scheduled for complete withdrawal by the end of this year, four years after its arrival in Iraq. There is no reason to stay longer as Iraq has gained stability and 8,000 U.S. troops stationed in the region are also expected to leave by January next year. In addition to protecting Arbil from war, its main objective, Zaytun has made a strong and lasting impact on the region through many projects helping the people. The 18,912 forces who worked at the unit each year have genuinely lived up to what the name of their division represented: zaytun in Arabic means “olive,” a worldwide symbol for peace.

The dispatch of the Zaytun unit served Korea’s national interests in many aspects. By promoting peace in Iraq, it raised Korea’s international profile and strengthened the Korea-U.S. alliance. The Kurdish people and the Kurdish Regional Government have expressed deep gratitude to the division, calling it “a gift from God.” No wonder Zaytun has brought Korea and Iraq closer. The division has also brought on considerable economic gains. In June, the Knowledge Economy Ministry and Korea National Oil Corp. signed a contract to develop a massive oil field in Iraq with estimated reserves of 1.9 billion barrels for Korea. Furthermore, the aggregate value of construction contracts won by Korean firms in Iraq rose dramatically from 17 million dollars in 2006 to 350 million dollars last year.

Now that the division is about to return home, those who were against its dispatch have a great deal to think about. Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the then ruling Uri Party vehemently opposed the deployment though it was expected to support the president’s side. The majority of lawmakers voted against extending the division’s stay last year. One of the most self-contradicting people on the dispatch was Chung Dong-young. As unification minister, Chung visited Arbil to boost troop morale. When he ran for president as the candidate of the United New Democratic Party, he quickly downgraded the status of the division as “subsidiary troops.” At the end of the year, the Zaytun unit will return home with pride and a lesson for two-faced politicians: politically motivated propaganda should not hinder promotion of national interests.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)