Global Policy Forum

Poland Sets Date for Iraq Pullout


By Judy Dempsey

International Herald Tribune
April 13, 2005

Ending months of uncertainty over the precise timing, Poland announced Tuesday that it would withdraw all its troops from Iraq once the United Nations mandate for the multinational force expires in December. Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said the cabinet had decided to bring home the 1,700 troops, but he left open the possibility that the mission could be extended if the United Nations mandate were renewed.

"At the time of the expiry of the Security Council's mandate, meaning at the end of 2005, the operations of the Polish stabilization mission should be finished," Szmajdzinski said after the cabinet meeting. He said that Prime Minister Marek Belka's government would not in the meantime be committing troops to any new missions. "Belka's government will surely not make any new military commitments," Szmajdzinski said. "We are carrying out an exit strategy."

The leftist government has become increasingly unpopular because of scandals and allegations of corruption and is expected to call elections for the summer. It would receive little public support for any new military missions. Public opinion, which backed the war in Iraq, changed after Pope John Paul II openly criticized the war. Poland was the fourth largest contributor of troops to the U.S.-led coalition and had been one of the joint commanders, along with Spain, of the 10,000 multinational forces based in south-central Iraq.

But when Spain withdrew its troops as part of an election promise made last year by the socialist leader, José Luis Rodrí­guez Zapatero, Poland was unable to withdraw even small numbers of troops, despite exploring the possibility. Spain's decision to withdraw was followed by Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, which were part of the Polish-Spanish multinational force. Hungary ended its mission in December and the Netherlands withdrew its troops in March.

Bulgaria said last month that it would consider withdrawing its 450 troops by the end of the year, depending on the security situation while President Viktor Yushchenko of the Ukraine said he intended to phase out its 1,450 troops over the coming months and end its mission by the end of the year.

Poland's decision to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq and then provide military assistance annoyed several of its European Union partners. But similar to other former communist countries, Poland said its own experiences of living under dictatorship influenced its decision to back the ousting of the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, and later provide military assistance and training. Additionally, the central and east European countries, some of which joined the NATO military alliance in 1999 and others last April, were much more Atlanticist than some EU countries, particularly France and Germany, which led opposition in Europe to the war in Iraq.

But Poland said it would continue to be involved in helping NATO train Iraqi officers both inside and outside Iraq. A NATO spokesman said Tuesday that more than 1,000 Iraqi officers would be trained by the alliance inside the country during this year and a further 500 officers trained outside in military academies in several countries, including Germany. "All NATO countries in one way or other are involved in the training," said the spokesman.

Polish leader threatens vote

Prime Minister Marek Belka said Tuesday that he would call a confidence vote in his government, potentially bringing forward elections, if Parliament dismissed his treasury minister, Reuters reported from Warsaw. Afraid that Parliament would oust his powerful privatization chief, Jacek Socha, in a no-confidence vote expected Friday, Belka's move appears to seek to discipline unruly deputies in the run-up to elections, which must be held by October.

"If the no-confidence vote was passed, I would put forward a motion of confidence in the government," Belka said. The speaker of Parliament, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, a senior figure in the minority governing Democratic Left Alliance, quickly played down the chances of Socha losing the vote and potentially sparking the more important vote on Belka's cabinet.

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