Seoul has cancelled plans to send troops to northern Iraq. The administration cited disagreement with the US over its proposal to conduct 'joint offensive operations' in the war-torn country. The South Korean Defence Ministry said it still planned to send its promised 3.600 troops to the Iraq but would look for alternative sites where they could operate independently. It said the US had suggested leaving some of its troops in Kirkuk, where the South Korean troops were to have been deployed. Seoul has rejected a US proposal that its troops should operate jointly to stabilise the deteriorating security situation in the area. 'This proposal runs against the principles of the troop dispatch approved by the South Korean parliament that stipulate South Korean troops will maintain their own independent command and control system in a defined area that they control for the purpose of carrying out peace and reconstruction efforts,' the ministry said. South Korea fears the continuing presence of US troops in the area would leave its own troops more vulnerable to attack. The ministry said the two allies had agreed that given deteriorating security in Kirkuk, they would search for another location for the South Korean troops. Seoul's decision to send 3,600 troops to Iraq - fewer than the US is thought to have requested - has sharply divided public opinion in South Korea and prompted street demonstrations both for and against the deployment. Supporters of the dispatch believe it could bolster the country's alliance with the United States, while opponents have criticised what they see as America's illegal invasion of Iraq. The decision also provoked an angry response from North Korea, Seoul has agreed to the dispatch in the hope it will strengthen its hand in multilateral negotiations with Washington over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. But it has consistently underlined that its soldiers would be engaged in reconstruction work in the war-torn country and has named the mission Zaytun - or olive, in Arabic - to underline its peaceful intent. About 460 South Korean medics and military engineers are already stationed in Iraq engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction work. The deployment of the 3,600 troops would make South Korea the third largest contributor of forces after the US and Britain. Defence officials said this latest setback could delay the deployment, which was scheduled for early April. 'There is a possibility that the timing of the troop despatch is delayed. There are some parts facing problems, such as the timing of an advance team and shipping of military hardware,' defence spokesman Nam Dae-yun said. South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quoting Defence Ministry sources, said a possible substitute site for the country's troops was Najaf in southern Iraq, where Spanish troops are stationed. Spain's new government, which won weekend elections, has threatened to withdraw its troops from Iraq shortly after winning elections Sunday. The vote came three days after bombings in Madrid that are suspected to have been carried out by terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, in retaliation for Spain's participation in the US-led coalition in Iraq.