Accessibility links

Iraq: Poland Announces Creation Of Mostly European Stability Force

  • Charles Recknagel

Poland has announced that a coalition of 10 mostly European nations is preparing to send troops to Iraq as part of a stabilization force by the end of this month. Warsaw also said it will share leadership of the force with the United States and Britain, RFE/RL reports.

Prague, 5 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S.-led efforts to show wide international support for the new order in Iraq are moving ahead as at least 10 nations plan to contribute troops to help maintain stability in the country.

Warsaw announced over the weekend that the 10 mostly European nations could have their forces in Iraq within several weeks. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told reporters at a European Union meeting in Greece that "the idea is to have all the countries ready to engage there by the end of the month."

Cimoszewicz did not provide further details, other than to say his country is ready for a long-term commitment. He said: "We understand it is our responsibility to stay there."

The size of the force, which is to be led by the United States, Britain, and Poland, has not been determined. The United States, Britain, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Albania have offered troops for the effort.

Warsaw's announcement that the force could be in place by the end of this month has been partially thrown into doubt by London. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters at the same EU meeting that "no final decisions have been made" and "announcements will be made in due course."

RFE/RL regional analyst Kathleen Ridolfo says it remains unclear what the responsibilities of the new stability force will be. The force is planned to be separate from the U.S. troops now in Iraq who maintain security in the wake of the war.

"Under the plan, as best it is known because very little has been said publicly by officials about it, Iraq would be divided into three sectors, one patrolled by around 20,000 U.S. troops, and the others patrolled by British and Polish forces. The stabilization force will be separate from the 135,000 U.S. forces still in Iraq," Ridolfo said.

Ridolfo continued: "It's unclear when the stabilization force will start work in Iraq. The British are expected to hold a 'force generation conference' on 7 May to iron out the details and determine which states will fall under its command and how many forces each state would be asked to contribute. Poland is expected to hold a similar meeting on 22 May."

U.S. officials have talked of reducing the U.S. military presence in Iraq but plan to maintain at least several divisions there during the American occupation period. The U.S. divisions are guarding against any resurgence by Hussein's loyalists or interference from neighboring states such as Syria and Iran.

Details of how many troops individual countries are prepared to contribute have not yet been made public. The Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted one unidentified Polish defense official today as saying that Washington would like Poland to contribute up to 4,000 troops. But the paper also quotes Cimoszewicz as saying it is "too early to say how many Polish troops will be included in the stabilization force."

Polish Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke told Polish public radio over the weekend that Warsaw would seek U.S. funding to pay for the mission before making any final commitments.

Poland already has contributed some 200 troops to the Iraq war, including 56 elite commandos, a ship, and an anti-chemical unit. Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia also contributed anti-chemical units as part of efforts to protect the region from any Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction.

The new stability force for Iraq is the result of persistent diplomatic efforts by Washington to internationalize the almost entirely U.S. and British force now occupying Iraq. That narrow base is the result of sharp global disagreements before the war over whether Washington and London had the right to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq.

The allies argued that the strike was necessary to remove suspected Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but they did not seek specific UN approval for the military action. Many states, notably France, Germany, and Russia, argued that the military action was unnecessary so long as UN weapons inspections were proceeding.

At one moment during the international dispute, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld drew a clear distinction between European countries that supported U.S. policy and those that did not. He labeled France and Germany -- which along with Russia are not planning to contribute troops to the postwar stability force -- part of "old Europe." He categorized other states -- many of them new NATO members like Poland or NATO hopefuls -- as part of a newer Europe supportive of U.S. policies.

"You are thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that is old Europe," the U.S. secretary of defense said in remarks to the press in late January. "If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east. And there are a lot of new members. And if you just take the list of all the members of NATO and all of those who have been invited in recently -- what is it, 26, something like that? -- you're right. Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem."

Rumsfeld's distinction infuriated Paris and Berlin, but it is likely to be highlighted again when the new stability force takes to the field. The 10 states offering troops for the force are mostly the same states which supported the United States in the pre-war debate. In the run-up to the war, many of them endorsed an open letter in "The Wall Street Journal" that distanced themselves from the position of France, Germany, and Russia.

French diplomats this week rejected any press suggestions that France's absence from the new stability force could be a sign of new splits within the European Union or with Washington.

Reuters quoted one French diplomat as saying at the meeting in Greece yesterday that it wants as wide an international involvement in Iraq as possible because that supports France's view that the United Nations should be in charge of Iraq's reconstruction.

The diplomat told the news service that "this [announcement of the stability force] is evidence that [the United States and Britain] are looking for wider legitimacy."

News agencies reported yesterday that U.S. President George W. Bush may stop in Poland later this month to thank Warsaw for its support during the Iraq war. The report, which has not been publicly confirmed by Washington, said the visit could take place as Bush travels in late May to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the city's 300th anniversary and to Evian, France, for a summit of the world's seven largest industrial democracies, plus Russia.