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Analysis: Coalition May Dwindle After Iraqi Elections

Italy appears likely to maintain its current troop presence in Iraq (file photo) A number of coalition member states are considering or have already decided that their forces will begin withdrawing from Iraq after national elections in January -- a move that could impact the ability of multinational forces to rein in militants.

A possible redeployment of Polish forces from Iraq would represent a significant loss for the coalition. Poland currently has some 2,500 troops located in south-central Iraq, with thousands of multinational forces under its command. But the government remains divided over the presence of Polish troops in Iraq. According to the "International Herald Tribune" of 5 October, some 80 percent of Poles want their troops to return home. Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said in early October that Polish troops should depart Iraq when UN Security Council Resolution 1546 (8 June 2004) expires at the end of 2005. That resolution endorsed the transfer of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi interim government and set a timetable for national elections and the drafting by 31 December 2005 of a permanent Iraqi constitution.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski confirmed the possible redeployment on 4 October (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 October 2004) saying that it could begin as early as January and be completed by year-end. He told PAP news agency in an interview published on 8 November that Iraq's national elections are "for us a very important point of entry into a new stage." Kwasniewski hinted that his government might be open to the possibility of recommitting troops to Iraq via an agreement reached with the future elected government and the United Nations.

Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka has stood opposed to any troop redeployment. He told the Warsaw daily "Rzeczpospolita" in an interview published on 5 October that his troops would remain in Iraq. Belka said on 5 November that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq "would be irresponsible," PAP reported the same day. Belka did concede in a 7 November interview with "Polska Zbrojna" that the status of Polish forces in Iraq would have to change when Resolution 1546 expires. "Reducing the size of our contingent, and in the longer-term perspective ending the mission, is above all not a goal in and of itself. We are in Iraq, after all, in order to achieve certain interests, both international ones as well as our own, national ones," he said, adding that Poland should be "flexible" about its presence in Iraq.

The Hungarian government announced on 4 November that it would withdraw its 300 troops from Iraq within five months but the pullout could begin as early as year-end. Hungary's mandate in Iraq expires on 31 December. The government proposed a three-month extension of the mandate through 31 March, but the proposal has yet to receive parliamentary support from opposition members.
The reality is that Iraq's security forces remain small in number, inexperienced, and vulnerable to desertion.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany spoke about the possible pullout in a 9 November interview with state radio. "We mustn't run away from Iraq, but return home with honor," Gyurcsany said. "But to do so, it is necessary to carry out what we have undertaken, notably to be there during the time of the democratic election that is considered to be the most important condition of a democratic settlement [in Iraq]." Polls show 60 percent of Hungarians want their troops home, AP reported on 5 November.

Portugal announced on 7 November that it would extend its mission, due to expire next week, for another 90 days in order to provide support during January's elections, AFP reported. Portugal deployed 128 national guardsmen to Al-Nasiriyah in November 2003.

Bulgaria appears to remain committed to keeping its forces in Iraq, but will likely reduce them from 483 to 430, according to media reports. Bulgarian troops on 8 November completed a relocation of its forces from Karbala to Al-Diwaniyah. The government announced that it has allocated 40 million levs (about $26.6 million) in support for its battalion in Iraq in 2005, reported on 7 November.

Singapore also intends to reduce its forces from 191 to 32, while Moldova will reduce its troop commitment from 42 to 12, reported on 4 November.

Slovakian Defense Ministry spokesman Zenon Mikle said that Slovak troops would remain in Iraq and that the government is not considering withdrawing its forces "for the time being," reported on 5 November. Mikle said that the situation could change depending upon the situation following January elections. Slovakia's 102 soldiers in Iraq are carrying out humanitarian tasks including mine clearing.

The Czech Republic extended its mandate in Iraq on 4 November by two months in order to help provide security during elections. The mandate was scheduled to end on 31 December. The Czech Republic has some 100 military policemen in Iraq. Czech Defense Minister Karel Kuehnl said in October that the country will propose a training program inside the Czech Republic for future Iraqi officers (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 October 2004). The military may also contribute surplus military equipment to the Iraqi armed forces. Recent media reports also indicate that Czech doctors will remain in Iraq.

Dutch officials have said that they will withdraw their forces by 15 March. Some 1,300 Dutch troops are serving under British command in southern Iraq, AFP reported on 1 November.

Georgia appears to be the only coalition member set on significantly increasing its deployment to Iraq. The government announced on 6 November that it will increase its force from 159 to 850 soldiers, AP reported. Those troops will mainly be tasked with providing protection for United Nations facilities and personnel ahead of January elections.

Fiji will send some 174 soldiers to Iraq next week to help provide security for UN officials and facilities in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 October 2004).

The United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy -- the staunchest supporters of the coalition -- appear committed to maintaining their current troop levels. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a 7 November interview that troops may pull out of Iraq by December 2005, but added that any redeployment would hinge on a number of factors related to security issues inside Iraq, reported on 8 November. The United Kingdom has some 12,000 troops in Iraq, while Italy has about 3,100 soldiers there.

Spain, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Philippines, Thailand, Norway, and New Zealand have all withdrawn or plan on withdrawing their troops from Iraq by year-end -- a total loss of about 2,800 troops.

The pullout of coalition members may affect security conditions in Iraq, but more importantly may be misinterpreted by militants in Iraq as an sign that the redeployments as a lessening of international support for the U.S.-led coalition. That perception can be overcome if the government elected in January takes immediate steps to seek a new UN mandate in support of multinational forces, possibly even months ahead of the current resolution's expiry. Regardless of the countless statements by some Iraqi officials that call for a withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq, the reality is that Iraq's security forces remain small in number, inexperienced, and vulnerable to desertion. If Iraq is to drive the insurgency outside its borders and rebuild its infrastructure, it will need the help of the U.S.-led coalition for many months to come.

[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]

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