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Iraq: Expert Sees Further Dwindling Of Coalition

U.S. troops targeted by a roadside bomb in Baghdad last month (epa) PRAGUE, June 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has announced plans to withdraw Japan's 600 noncombat troops from Iraq. The decision comes one day after Iraq’s prime minister said Iraqi forces will take over security operations in the southern Al-Muthanna Governorate where Japanese troops have been engaged in reconstruction and humanitarian work. RFE/RL correspondent Jeffrey Donovan discussed the state of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq with Charles Heyman, editor of the journal "The Armed Forces Of The European Union."

RFE/RL: Given the nature of the Japanese troops’ work in Iraq -- where they have carried out a humanitarian, noncombat mission -- what effect will their troop pullout have on the overall coalition effort there?

Charles Heyman: If we look at coalition operations across the whole of Iraq, the Japanese decision to withdraw the whole of their troops out of Al-Muthanna Governorate really doesn’t make much of a difference. First of all, we’ve known about this for quite a long time now; there’s been an enormous amount of debate going on in Japan. Those Japanese troops are assisting with reconstruction projects in probably the most sparsely populated province in Iraq, a province with a total population of about 300,000. And to help them do their reconstruction projects, they’ve been guarded by 400 Australian troops. And those Australian troops now are going to be redeployed elsewhere. So it is possible, actually, to say that the Japanese moving out might mean that some more troops are freed up for offensive operations against insurgents. Certainly, I think that the whole thing at the end of the day doesn’t have as much of a negative impact as most observers initially believed.

RFE/RL: There has been some talk in Australia about the impact on Australian troops who have been guarding the Japanese troops. Are those Australian troops now going to be engaged in more offensive operations, as you seem to be suggesting?

"In Europe, the war in Iraq is far more unpopular than many people, certainly in the U.S., actually believe. I mean, there is no doubt about it: a significant slice of European public opinion is very much against what’s going on in Iraq at the moment. So there is pressure on all of these smaller European contingents for their withdrawal."

Heyman: The first we’ve got, in fact, is that those Australian troops are going to be moved from Al-Muthanna Governorate to the Syrian border to help with security in northern Iraq. Now, if that is true, of course that does mean that those Australian troops will be subject almost certainly to some form of attacks by insurgents during the weeks to come. So it’s going to be more difficult and more dangerous for them, and of course that will have some sort of reaction from domestic public opinion in Australia itself.

RFE/RL: Italy, meanwhile, has announced it will pull its troops out by the end of the year. Given Rome’s and Japan’s decision, and dwindling public support for the Iraq mission in other coalition countries, how do you see the rest of the year panning out for the U.S.-led coalition? Is it gradually falling apart?

Heyman: In Europe, the war in Iraq is far more unpopular than many people, certainly in the U.S., actually believe. I mean, there is no doubt about it: a significant slice of European public opinion is very much against what’s going on in Iraq at the moment. So there is pressure on all of these smaller European contingents for their withdrawal. My gut feeling is that by the end of this year there will only be, coalition-wise, the Australians and the British helping the Americans, with maybe a handful of very, very small contingents from places like Latvia and Lithuania, and a few other countries. But really, really, pretty insignificant numbers overall. The only people we’re liable to see there are probably British and Australians assisting the Americans.

RFE/RL: And Poland, which has had a pretty large presence, about 2,300 troops -- are they on their way out as well?

Heyman: They’re not exactly on their way out at the moment, but there is tremendous pressure for the government to take them out. And it’s debatable how long that Polish contingent is going to stay as large as it is. My gut feeling is that it’s going to be very, very much smaller very quickly.

RFE/RL: And what about all these little contingents from countries like Hungary, Georgia, Mongolia, El Salvador, the Czech Republic. What are they really doing there? You look at the numbers. Lithuania, for example, has only 50 troops. Are these troops that are engaged in real combat?

Heyman: In some cases they’re involved in helping the coalition in anti-insurgency operations. In other cases, they’re helping to guard or they’re providing some specialist military roles of one sort or another. But they are there for a sensible, sound political purpose, which is to tie themselves in to the United States and to make some sort of demonstration to the U.S. government that we are here with you.

These are generally countries that had a bit of a rough time over the last 40 or 50 years in terms of security and are relishing their newfound independence and want it to stay that way. When you look at them, you think, well, these are countries that are saying that their best guarantor of security, over the long-term, is probably the U.S. and NATO. So they’re trying to keep themselves inside that security architecture, and one of the best ways they can do that is by showing a bit of [willingness] inside Iraq itself.

RFE/RL: The withdrawal of some of these coalition forces may not have an impact militarily on the coalition. But what about politically and diplomatically?

Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi (right) visiting Italian troops in Al-Nassiriyah last month (epa)

Heyman: I think politically and diplomatically, the presence of these contingents is very important. And having them leave the coalition is a sign, certainly for U.S. domestic opinion, that the U.S. is slowly but surely becoming isolated in its operations in Iraq. And there is also the chance that this isolation might translate itself to [U.S. President] George W. Bush’s war on terror itself. And that’s someone that no one in his right mind wants to see.

RFE/RL: So to sum up, by the end of the year you see the coalition becoming a mostly Anglophone representation – that is, the United States, Britain, and Australia?

Heyman: It begins to look like it. Certainly the numbers on the ground are going to be primarily Anglophone, as you describe it. We’re look at about 150,000 [troops] in total, with about 7,500 British, just under 1,000 Australians, and some other coalition figures running up to about 2,500. And those numbers do change very, very quickly. And of course, the overall American figures change very quickly as well, as troops rotate in and out, and we’ve just seen a reserve brigade being deployed from Kuwait. So it’s really difficult to pin those figures down. But I think that this point in time, across the board, we’re probably looking at about 150,000 coalition troops in Iraq.

The International Coalition In Iraq

The International Coalition In Iraq
Georgian soldiers marking Georgian Independence Day in Baghdad on June 6 (epa)

COALITION MEMBERS: In addition to the United States, 28 countries are Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) contributors as of May 31, 2006: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Fiji is participating as part of the UN mission in Iraq. Hungary, Iceland, Slovenia, and Turkey are NATO countries supporting Iraqi stability operations but are not part of MNF-I.

NON-U.S. MILITARY PERSONNEL IN IRAQ: United Kingdom, 8,000 as of May 26, 2006; South Korea, 3,237 as of May 9, 2006; Italy, 2,900 as of April 27, 2006; Poland, 900 as of May 30, 2006; Australia, 900 as of March 28, 2006; Georgia, 900 as of March 24, 2006; Romania, 860 as of April 27, 2006; Japan, 600 as of May 30, 2006; Denmark, 530 as of May 23, 2006; All others, 1,140.

(Source: The Washington-based Brooking Institution’s Iraq Index of June 15, 2006)

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