Poland's Withdrawal from Iraq now is unfortunate
The announcement by Poland's Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski that Poland intends to withdraw its troops at the end of 2005 is unfortunate and could not come at a worse time. It is unfortunate because U.S.-Polish relations have been improving in part because of Poland's troop commitment in Iraq. The timing also jeopardizes the $100 million military aid package being considered this week in the House and Senate. The Poles, understandably, have their eyes on the election. The Defense Minister's reasons for withdrawing troops are only half right. The first reason he gave was a military assessment. However, Iraq has just formed a government and it not at all certain that stability can be assured without the presence of coalition forces. The second reason has some validity since overseas deployments entail some costs. However, since Poland joined the EU, the economy is booming. Unemployment rates are high, but the figures are largely artificial and inflated.
There are three ways in which this decision can be reversed. First, President Kwasniewski can stand tall and show moral courage by overriding his Cabinet. Second, the UN can extend its mandate, but this is unlikely. Third, the Iraqi government can ask the Poles to stay. This will depend on the ability of the Iraqi government to decrease terrorism and the degree to which sentiment against foreign troops is whipped up by Shia mullahs.
WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Poland will withdraw its 1,700 soldiers from Iraq after their U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year, the defense minister said Tuesday, giving the first definitive timetable for ending a deployment that was very unpopular with Polish citizens.
Jerzy Szmajdzinski said it would take "a few weeks" for all the troops and equipment to return to Poland after the resolution for the multinational force in Iraq expires.
Polish officials previously indicated their forces would leave after the U.N. resolution expired, but Szmajdzinski's remarks were the first to narrow the window for the withdrawal to a January timeframe.
Poland is the fourth-largest contributor of troops to the U.S.-led coalition. The country commands a multinational force of about 4,700 troops in three provinces in central Iraq.
Szmajdzinski said his statement reflected the position of the Polish Cabinet and would need to be confirmed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski.
The next tour of duty, which begins in July and runs until the end of the year, would be smaller by a "few hundred troops," Szmajdzinski said, but he did not give the specific number.
Szmajdzinski said the decision to bring the troops home was based on an assessment of the security situation and on the financial burden on Poland's budget.
However, he added the mission could be extended if the Security Council voted a new mandate for next year or if the Iraqi government asked Poland to retain its troops there.
The current left-leaning government's popularity, burdened by a series of corruption scandals, has sunk to single digits in opinion polls ahead of parliamentary elections, which could be held as early as June.