Georgian troops in Iraq to return amid Russian aggression

The Georgian breakaway region of Ossetia came under aerial bombardment from Russia, in what Georgia's UN ambassador called a "full-scale military invasion". More Russian army units and reinforcements arrived overnight in the region.


Russia and its pro-West neighbour Georgia engaged in fierce fighting Saturday in the disputed region of South Ossetia, reports said, as the international community scrambled to prevent an all-out war.

Georgian forces early Saturday launched the latest in a series of artillery attacks on Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway Georgian region, a south Ossetian government spokeswoman said. Russian forces said they had counterattacked.


Russian warplanes carried out up to five bombing raids on Saturday around the Georgian town of Gori close to the embattled breakaway region of South Ossetia, according to a Reuters reporter.


Georgian contingent in Iraq redeployed back home


A Georgian commander said on Saturday, the 2,000 soldiers serving in Iraq will be withdrawn within the next three days to help battle South Ossentian seperatist rebels. "The full brigade will go home from Iraq," Colonel Bondo Maisuradze told Reuters.

Georgia said it was under Russian aerial bombardment in what the country's UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania described as "a full-scale military invasion."

Moscow on Friday sent troops into the province to defend Russians under fire from a Georgian offensive to regain control over the province that broke away from Tbilisi's control in the early 1990s.

Georgian President Saakashvili said 30 people had died on the Georgian side on Friday, but a separatist spokeswoman put the overall death toll to at least 1,600 on Saturday.

President Saakashvili on Saturday was preparing to declare a state of emergency, senior administration official Alexander Lomaia told AFP.

Authorities have evacuated the presidential building and other government offices in the capital Tbilisi amid fears of Russian bombardment, Lomaia said.


'A humanitarian catastrophe'


In the streets of Tskhinvali, home to an estimated 20,000 people, tanks were seen burning, and women and children ran for cover, hunched over in terror on Friday.


Russian president Dmitry Medvedev described on Saturday, the situation in Georgia's embattled breakaway region
of South Ossetia as a "humanitarian catastrophe", Russian news agencies reported.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said hospitals in Tskhinvali were teeming with casualties.

"Ambulances cannot move, hospitals are reported to be overflowing, surgery is taking place in corridors," an ICRC spokeswoman said, adding inhabitants were taking shelter in basements with no electricity or phone service.

South Ossetia broke from Georgia in the early 1990s. It has since been a constant source of friction between Georgia and Russia, which opposes Tbilisi's aspirations of joining NATO and has de facto supported the separatists although not recognised their independence.

South Ossetia has long sought unification with North Ossetia, which is inhabited by the same Ossetian ethnic group but ended up across the border in Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

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