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Europe

Poland to Reduce Force In Iraq

Poland will significantly reduce its number of troops in Iraq by the end of 2005, the country's defense minister said on Monday. The move could reflect some Poles' increasing dissatisfaction with American policies.

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Polish soldiers will go home next year

In the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, Poland was one of America's staunchest supporters. All of Poland's major political parties supported the war and 2,500 troops were sent to help with the war effort. Those soldiers now lead an 8,000 strong multinational force, which controls south-central Iraq.

But Poland's Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski was quoted in Monday's issue of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza as saying that Poland would significantly reduce its commitment to the region. According to the report, Poland will reduce its forces in Iraq by 40 percent -- from 2,500 to 1,500 -- by the end of 2005.

Government under pressure

The deadline to pull out troops will coincide with the expiration of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1546 at the end of 2005, which authorized the upcoming elections.

"That does not mean, however, that if a stabilization mission was continued, Polish troops would be completely pulled out from Iraq," said Szmajdzinkski. "A group of officers at the headquarters, training centers, maybe a group of observers could still remain."

The decision to reduce Poland's deployment in Iraq came at the request of the current left-wing government's junior coalition party, the Labor Union (UP). Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka's government faces a parliamentary vote of confidence later this month, and general parliamentary elections are due to be held in mid-2005. Both will take place amid a growing backdrop of disenchantment with American foreign policy.

America's image tarnished

Poland has long been one of the United States' staunchest supporters. Largely due to the legacy of communism, even the liberals among Poland's political elite shared US policy-makers' view that tyranny should be met with force.

But as the situation in Iraq degenerated over the past year, Poles -- both the media and the average citizen alike -- have started to question the price Poland pays for its unwavering support for its unwavering support of the United States. Indeed, 17 Poles have died in Iraq, but the political costs have also been high.

By allying itself with the US in the hopes of becoming a leader of so-called "New Europe," Poland entered the EU on May 1st of this year at odds with Germany and France. And Poles are questioning whether the current US administration truly intends to make good on its promise to deliver a credible democracy in Iraq, the basis upon which they supported the invasion.

What's more, the United States has not delivered many of the rewards promised to Poland in exchange for its support, including lucrative reconstruction contracts.

Aleksander Kwasniewski und George W. Bush, Schloß Wavel

Poland's President Kwasniewski, pictured with US President Bush, is getting tough with Washington.

All of the above has led to a growing backlash. Earlier this month, even Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski offered his own voice to the growing chorus of dissent. He told the New York Times that the United States needed to become "more flexible, more gracious," and that the Bush administration should abandon its "neoconservative divide-and-rule policy."

In June, Spain withdrew its 1,300 troops after the socialists replaced the conservative government of Jose Maria Aznar in national elections. The new Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, has called the war iraq illegal under international law.

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