Poland Extends Iraq Mission Through 2006
Dec. 29, 2005
WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Poland's president said Thursday that he has approved extending the country's military mission in Iraq for another year.
Lech Kaczynski decided ``to extend the duration of the mission'' through Dec. 31, 2006, reversing a decision by Poland's last government to bring the troops home within weeks, his office said in a brief statement.
Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz's government requested Tuesday that Kaczynski, the commander in chief of Poland's armed forces, reverse plans by the previous government to bring home troops serving with the U.S.-led coalition in early 2006.
Kaczynski's announcement offers some relief to President Bush, who has seen the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq dwindle and faces criticism at home and abroad over his handling of the war.
Ukraine and Bulgaria announced this week that their remaining soldiers had pulled out of Iraq.
In calling for an extension Tuesday, Marcinkiewicz called the move ``a very difficult decision'' but said that it was a step meant to help maintain stability as Iraq progresses toward democracy.
Though the mission will be prolonged, the number of Poles serving in Iraq will be cut from about 1,500 to 900 by March, officials have said. The Poles are based at Camp Echo in the central city of Diwaniyah, one of the nation's more stable areas, where they mainly train Iraqi security forces.
Poland has been a staunch U.S. ally in Iraq. It sent combat troops to the country and in September 2003 took command of an international force that now numbers some 3,000 troops from 12 countries.
However, the deployment is unpopular, and some in Poland have complained that they have not seen sufficient rewards such as easier access to U.S. visas or more rebuilding contracts for Polish companies. Seventeen Poland solders have died in Iraq.
The previous left-wing government was replaced after parliamentary and presidential elections in September and October, which resulted in the conservative Law and Justice party of Marcinkiewicz and Kaczynski succeeding former communists in the top offices.