South Korea is reluctantly sending a peacekeeping force to Iraq. Popular opposition to the decision, originally made at the behest of the United States, was loud and apparently widespread. The government decided to send a force of volunteers, to avoid any problems with soldiers opposed to the Iraqi mission. There was surprise when there were over five times as many soldiers volunteering, than were needed. Some of this enthusiasm may be prompted by the higher pay. Most of South Korea's army is composed of conscripts, who receive less than fifteen dollars a month. But for service in Iraq, the soldiers will receive up to $1,100 a month. But even the career soldiers were eager to go. There are 966 slots for NCOs (most of whom are not conscripts), and 13,300 volunteered as of February 4th. There were 3,800 applicants for the 523 officer slots. Some 6,800 privates (many young enough to need parental consent to go) applied for 2,065 spots. These numbers will increase, as the deadline for volunteering is February 10th.
When asked, soldiers told reporters that the money was attractive, but for the young conscripts it was a chance to do something different, something useful and something a little dangerous. The South Korean brigade will be stationed in northern Iraq, around Kirkuk. This area is largely Kurdish, although there have been some combat activity with a few Sunni Arabs still resisting. So it's dangerous, but not very.
For career soldiers, going to Iraq is seen as a solid career move. The Iraqi operations will, at times, be difficult, and an officer or NCO who performs well in such situations will be more likely to get promoted in the future. Also, for career soldiers, most of whom never see combat, going to Iraq may be the closest they ever get to it. While professional soldiers are hardly eager to go to war, they always wonder if they could have done well what they were trained to do. There are very few combat veterans left in the South Korean army. The last combat South Koreans saw was in Vietnam in 1972, and South Korean combat units had all left South Vietnam by 1970. Some 4,400 South Korean troops died in Vietnam, but they don't expect to lose more than a few dozen in Iraq, if that. A lot of South Korean soldiers are also eager to show that they can do whatever American troops can, and do it better. Iraq will give them a chance to show off their combat and peacekeeping skills.