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Poland Planning Pull-Out of Troops from Iraq


By Derek Scally

Irish Times
April 20, 2004

Poland is planning to withdraw its troops from Iraq in the coming months, dealing another blow to the US-led coalition forces there.

The revelation yesterday by a senior government adviser that Poland's 2,500 soldiers would leave Iraq comes just a day after the new Spanish Prime Minister, Mr José Luis Rodrí­guez Zapatero, announced the pull-out of Spanish troops "as soon as possible". President Bush reacted to the Spanish decision by accusing Mr Zapatero yesterday of giving "false comfort to terrorists \ enemies of freedom in Iraq". The White House spokesman, Mr Scott McClellan, said that in a five-minute telephone call to Mr Zapatero, Mr Bush also urged Spain's withdrawal to "take place in a co-ordinated manner that does not put at risk other coalition forces in Iraq". Spain said last night its troops would be out within six to eight weeks.

A senior adviser to the Polish government confirmed to The Irish Times that Warsaw's decision had been influenced by the Spanish move. "Given the circumstances [in Iraq], we will probably diminish significantly the forces at the end of 2004," said Prof Tadeusz Iwinski, secretary of state for international affairs in the office of the prime minister. Questioned further by The Irish Times, he said: "It is much easier to send troops in than to withdraw them, but we will probably do it at the end of 2004 or the start of 2005."

As well as 2,500 soldiers, Poland commands a 9,000-strong division of troops from 24 nations, including 1,300 Spanish soldiers. Poland and Spain had worked closely as both political and military allies over Iraq. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in Warsaw was unable to comment. However, indicating evident confusion within the government, the Polish President, Mr Aleksander Kwasniewski, was quoted yesterday pledging to keep Polish soldiers in Iraq. He bemoaned the Spanish decision to withdraw and said he hoped that the Latin American members of the coalition would keep their troops in Iraq.

But last night there were signs that this would not happen. El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua provided 900 troops to the Spanish-speaking Plus Ultra Brigade which was headed by Spain. Honduras said it would definitely withdraw its 400 troops. Nicaragua has already pulled out by not replacing its 115 troops because of a lack of funds.

The US State Department spokesman, Mr Richard Boucher, insisted that El Salvador was "holding fast", as he put it. According to the Associated Press, Albania, a predominantly Muslim country, has told the US it is prepared to send more non-combat troops to Iraq, on top of the 71-member contingent already there, in the northern city of Mosul, under US command.

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