Part of military hospital personnel leaves for Iraq

Members of the 7th Czech military field hospital said good-bye to their colleagues at a ceremony in Hradec Kralove on Thursday before leaving for their mission in Basra, southern Iraq. The first 40 members of the unit left on Thursday afternoon for Kuwait from where they will travel to Iraq. Further personnel will leave on Friday. The field hospital has two operating theatres, a quarantine section, a dentist's office with an X-ray machine and a pharmacy. The unit has about 270 members. The United States ambassador to Prague Craig Stapleton praised the Czech government for deciding to send the unit to Iraq. He said that although Iraq has been liberated, there is still work to be done.

On Tuesday, parliament approved Prime Minister Vladmir Spidla's plan to dispatch the medical unit to provide humanitarian support. The United States is helping to finance the operation. Mr Spidla has been emphasising the humanitarian focus of the hospital and the 400-member Czech army unit stationed in Kuwait that can detect against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Last year the Czech Republic stationed an army hospital in Afghanistan following a US-led war there. Before its mission ended in January the 6th field hospital treated nearly 14,000 Afghans.