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Poland Takes up Iraq Command as U.S. Looks for More Help

Poland took over command of a section of Iraq on Wednesday, as the United States attempted to get more countries to join peacekeeping efforts with a new U.N. resolution. But Germany has said it still won’t send troops.

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Polish Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz (left) will command the Multinational Division.

In a ceremony in an amphitheater in the ancient city of Babylon, U.S. Marines relinquished control of south-central Iraq to the region’s new Polish commander. Warsaw will now direct a force of around 9,000 international troops in what is being seen as crucial test of Poland’s desire to play a greater role in world affairs.

“We aren’t just being greeted, we are rather being celebrated euphorically,” Polish military spokesman Andrzej Wiatrowski told Deutsche Welle, referring to how the Iraqis apparently did not consider the Poles foreign occupiers.

The handover from U.S. to Polish command comes just as U.S. President George Bush is hoping a new United Nations resolution will convince even more nations to contribute to peacekeeping efforts in Iraq. Washington sees the so-called Multinational Division with soldiers from 21 countries including Poland, Ukraine and Spain under Polish Major General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz as key to stabilizing the country and taking pressure off U.S. troops.

“The message is that the international community is committed to the country of Iraq, to its people and to the world – to never allow the Saddam Hussein regime to return and to bring peace and stability to this country and this region,” Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the U.S.-led task force in Iraq, told Reuters.

U.S. to stay in Najaf

The U.S. forces have delayed handing over part of the south-central zone to the international troops surrounding the city of Najaf following the deadly car bomb that killed a leading Shi’ite cleric and around 80 other people on Friday. But once tensions recede and some troops receive necessary equipment, Najaf is likely to come under Polish control in the coming weeks.

“Our primary goal is the security of the zone under our control,” said Wiatrowski. “The people need access to electricity and water; furthermore humanitarian aid must get to where it is needed.”

Poland and other nations contributing to the division have been a staunch supporters of the United States in its efforts to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but Washington would like to get other countries involved in peacekeeping. But India, Pakistan, Turkey among others have been loath to get involved unless the United Nations is given more authority in reconstruction efforts.

However, the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last month, which resulted in the death of U.N. Special Representative to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello and others, has raised serious questions about the future involvement of the international community and support networks in the country.

A new U.N. Security Council resolution is likely to call for a unified multinational peacekeeping mission under command of the U.S. military. But it remains unclear whether that would be enough to convince war skeptics to send troops to Iraq.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has repeatedly said he would not send German soldiers to Iraq, regardless whether there was UN backing or not, contending Germany is playing its part in the war against international terrorism by having thousands of troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere abroad.

Schröder on Tuesday reportedly said he was “sickened” by recent comments by Greens co-leader Angelika Beer, who said that Germany could soon send troops to Iraq if their deployment was covered by a United Nations resolution. The chancellor was apparently upset that his junior coalition could not decide whether it wanted to toe the government line or be an opposition party.

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