Seventy Ukrainian soldiers return from Iraq in 2005
Ukrainian soldiers return from Iraq in 2005 at a military airport outside the Ukrainian capital Kyiv Image by AP

Post misleads on Ukraine’s role in Iraq War

David Williams April 4, 2022

7000 Ukrainian troops invaded Iraq in 2003.


Misleading. The Ukraine was not part of the invading force in March 2003. In addition, the most troops the Ukraine had in Iraq at any one time was 1700.

As Russia’s conflict in the Ukraine continues, a social media post claims that 7000 Ukrainian forces were involved in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But experts say the claim is misleading. Ukraine, initially against the US-led invasion of Iraq, did not commit combat troops to the coalition forces that invaded in March 2003 while the 7000 figure refers to the cumulative deployment of troops over five years.

The Facebook post says: “7,000 Ukrainian troops invaded a sovereign Iraq in 2003 for no reason. They aided to hang a democratically elected president. The Ukrainians served as the third-largest coalition forces contingent during Iraqi occupation. Hundreds of thousands were ki!led because of the Ukrainian occupation of Iraq. Thousand of women were raped. But guess none felt the same pain because the victims were from different faith and race.”

The post was shared by “Aussie Cossack” Simeon Boikov, who has been the focus of previously debunked claims by AAP FactCheck (see here and here).

The post’s claim inflates both Ukraine’s role in the Iraq War, and its troop deployment as highlighted by news reports. An NBC article from January 2005 on the Ukrainian parliament calling for troops to be withdrawn, states there were 1650 Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq at the time.

The article also noted that the “Ukraine strongly opposed the US-led war on Iraq, but later agreed to send troops in an apparent effort to patch up relations” with the US.

That assessment is backed up by a Guardian report from July 2003, saying an 1800-strong “peacekeeping contingent” was due to go to Iraq in September of that year. The decision was an about-face on Ukraine’s view of the invasion after an investigation on whether Ukraine had sold Iraq weapons systems in 2000. Background on that controversy is documented here.

Dr David Kilcullen, who was senior adviser to General (Ret.) David Petraeus in Iraq in 2007, confirmed to AAP FactCheck that the most troops the Ukrainians had in Iraq at any one time was 1700.

“After 2006 they had only 40 troops in country in a peacekeeping role. A total of about 5000 Ukrainian service members served in Iraq during that time, as part of the US-led coalition,” he said in an email.

Dr Kilcullen said the Ukrainians were the third largest contingent in Iraq from 2003-2008, by the time they withdrew.

Those figures are supported by a US Army report on Ukraine’s “end of mission ceremony” published on December 11, 2008. In contrast, a book “Allied Participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom” produced by the US Army Center of Military History, lists 7000 as a cumulative total for ground troops from March 2003 to December 2005 with Ukraine’s peak deployment 1630 (page 116).

But Ukraine was not part of the invasion force in March 2003, known as the “Coalition of the Willing”.

This was confirmed by John Blaxland, professor of International Security & Intelligence Studies at ANU, who told AAP FactCheck the 2003 invasion involved US, UK and Australian troops but not Ukrainians.

Dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion began on March 20, 2003, with a “shock and awe” campaign of aerial bombardment, despite the failure of a UN Security Council resolution to authorise the war. That same day, protesters gathered outside Ukraine’s parliament to oppose a vote on whether Ukraine would send a 530-man anti-chemical unit to Kuwait to help in the event of a chemical or biological attack. This report on the vote notes Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma’s concern over the failure of diplomatic initiatives at the UN to prevent the war.

Before the vote, Ukraine had not been counted among the Coalition of the Willing, as shown in this BBC report from March 18, 2003 using the US State Department as a source. A week later, the White House listed Ukraine among 49 countries committed to the coalition.

However, the Ukraine was excluded from some evaluations of the coalition’s membership, such as this Stanford University report from June 2003. In the same month, the Ukrainian parliament approved a decision to send an 1800-strong peacekeeping force in September 2003. The decision followed a UN Security Council resolution on March 22, which “determined the political role of the UN in the post-conflict restoration of Iraq”.

The resolution was adopted after the US-led invasion was declared a success and coalition forces moved to a period of military occupation. Among other matters the resolution included calls to provide humanitarian aid and begin steps to enable the Iraqi people to determine their own political future.

By February 2007, the Coalition of the Willing’s numbers had dwindled, from 25,000 forces drawn from 38 countries in 2003 to just 15,000 troops from 25 nations, according to this report. The Council on Foreign Relations report doesn’t count the Ukraine among the nations contributing significantly to the coalition by 2007.

“The most significant reduction in coalition strength came in September 2005, when Italy began pulling out all of its 3,000 troops. Ukraine and Bulgaria, two of Washington’s staunchest partners in the war, quickly followed suit and withdrew the bulk of their forces the following year,” it says.

In 2006, Ukraine downsized its peacekeeping force to just 40 soldiers.

The Verdict

Contrary to the post’s claim, the Ukraine played no part in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. However, it provided peacekeeping troops in September of that year after parliamentary approval.

It is true that Ukrainians served as the third largest coalition contingent, an expert confirmed to AAP FactCheck, with about 5000 troops over five years, and a peak deployment of 1700 soldiers. A book by the US Army Center of Military History put the Ukraine’s cumulative total of ground troops at 7000 from March 2003 to December 2005.

Misleading ÔÇô The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.

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