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Europe

Poland Takes on Lead Role in Postwar Iraq

Poland, alongside the United States and Britain, is set to help administer postwar Iraq. Warsaw’s prominent role comes not only from its loyalty to Washington, but also from its little known yet longstanding Iraqi ties.

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Poland sent 200 soldiers to support the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Long a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, Poland was one of only a handful of nations committing combat troops to Washington’s effort to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Now as the United States tries to ensure postwar stability in Iraq, Poland has been given control of one of three military sectors in the country. While American soldiers will patrol Baghdad and it surroundings and British troops are to manage the south including the city of Basra, Poland’s armed forces will take charge of the Kurdish-dominated northern part of the country.

Whereas France, Germany, Russia and other nations opposed the war have been left out of any postwar planning, Poland at least nine other nations told the United States last week they would contribute troops to a three division-strong force to stabilize Iraq.

"The idea is to have all the countries, ready to engage, there by the end of this month," Poland's Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Reuters news agency on Saturday.

Poland said it would likely send between 4,000 and 10,000 soldiers to Iraq, with the final figure depending on how much financial support it gets from Washington. The Polish forces would then lead one of three, or possibly four, sectors. Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Albania have all offered troops for the policing effort.

Not just quid pro quo

Though the high-profile role allotted Poland might appear to some as simple quid pro quo for Warsaw’s largely unconditional support for the United States before and during the war, Washington is also making use of extensive Polish ties to Iraq that have been built up over decades.

For the past 12 years, Poland has represented U.S. interests at its embassy in Baghdad after America closed its own diplomatic representation down during the 1991 Gulf War.

Warsaw’s own ties with Iraq have been strong ever since the 1970s. It was then that around 80,000 Poles worked in Iraq as engineers, doctors and oil industry technicians. At the same time much of Iraq’s elite went to Poland to study, meaning that quite a few Iraqis speak Polish.

But those ties mean little to European Union politicians who see the Poland’s relationship with the United States as a hindrance to forging a common EU foreign and defense policy. French President Jacques Chirac created a stir this winter when he chastised prospective EU members like Poland for signing a letter supporting the hard U.S. line against Iraq.

Kwasniewski bei Bush im Weißen Haus

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and U.S. President George Bush.

Despite that incident, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is only too happy to use Poland’s new high-profile to serve as a bridge between Europe and America.

“We are happy that today we are very close partners with the USA, but we also know the importance of Germany and France in the world,” Kwasniewski said.

“One cannot forge meaningful policies without these states and the USA has to understand that.”

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