SEOUL — South Korea's Cabinet approved a plan Tuesday to send 3,000 troops to Iraq as early as April in a mission that would make Seoul the biggest contributor to coalition forces after the U.S. and Britain.
Tuesday's Cabinet decision triggered protests in Seoul, where hundreds of activists tried to rush the parliament building with banners reading "No more blood for Bush!"
The Cabinet did not have time to submit the plan to parliament for approval Tuesday, but President Roh Moo Hyun's office said it would be done by today.
All major political parties have indicated that they will approve the bill, despite the mission's unpopularity with the public.
President Bush earlier made a late-night phone call to thank Roh for pushing the new deployment, in addition to about 460 South Korean military medics and engineers already on the ground near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
The new deployment is likely to include special forces commandos and combat-ready marines and will be responsible for security and reconstruction around the northern oil city of Kirkuk, said Lt. Gen. Kim Jang Soo, chief operations director at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
About 300 activists briefly scuffled with police Tuesday as they tried to march toward parliament to protest the troop dispatch, but no injuries were reported.
Opposition has risen since two South Korean engineers were killed north of Baghdad late last month amid a rash of attacks on coalition personnel.
Roh has vowed to push the deployment as a sign of solidarity with Washington, saying the dispatch will help garner U.S. support for peacefully resolving the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program.