Two U.S. Allies Pulling Out of Iraq

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
By WILLIAM J. KOLE - Associated Press Writer
VIENNA, Austria - (AP) Two of America's allies in Iraq are
withdrawing forces this month and a half-dozen others are debating possible
pullouts or reductions, increasing pressure on Washington as calls mount to
bring home U.S. troops.
Bulgaria and Ukraine will begin withdrawing their combined 1,250
troops by mid-December. If Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland and
South Korea reduce or recall their personnel, more than half of the
non-American forces in Iraq could be gone by next summer.
Japan and South Korea help with reconstruction, but Britain and
Australia provide substantial support forces and Italy and Poland train
Iraqi troops and police. Their exodus would deal a blow to American efforts
to prepare Iraqis to take over the most dangerous peacekeeping tasks and
craft an eventual U.S. exit strategy.
"The vibrations of unease from within the United States clearly have
an impact on public opinion elsewhere," said Terence Taylor of the
International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. "Public opinion
in many of these countries is heavily divided."
In the months after the March 2003 invasion, the multinational force
numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries _ 250,000 from the U.S.
and 50,000 from other countries. The coalition has steadily unraveled as the
death toll rises and angry publics clamor for troops to leave.
Now the nearly 160,000-member U.S. force in Iraq is supported by
just under 24,000 mostly non-combat personnel from 27 countries. Britain has
the second-largest contingent with 8,000 in Iraq and 2,000 elsewhere in the
Gulf region.
In the spring, the Netherlands had 1,400 troops in Iraq. Today,
there are 19, including a lone Dutch soldier in Baghdad.
Ukraine's remaining 876 troops in Iraq are due home by Dec. 31,
fulfilling a campaign pledge by President Viktor Yushchenko. Bulgaria is
pulling out its 380 troops after Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, Defense
Minister Veselin Bliznakov said.
In his strategy for Iraq, announced Wednesday, President Bush said
expanding international support was one of his goals. He also seemed to
address the issue of more allies withdrawing.
"As our posture changes over time, so too will the posture of our
coalition partners," the document says. "We and the Iraqis must work with
them to coordinate our efforts, helping Iraq to consolidate and secure its
gains on many different fronts."
Struggling to shore up the coalition, Bush stopped in Mongolia on
his recent Asia trip and praised its force of about 120 soldiers in Iraq as
"fearless warriors."
At least 2,110 U.S. service personnel have died since the beginning
of the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count. At least 200 troops
from other countries also have died, including 98 from Britain. Other tolls:
Italy, 27; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Slovakia,
three; Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each;
Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, one each.
Underscoring mounting opposition in nearly all coalition countries,
a poll published in Japan's Asahi newspaper this week showed 69 percent of
respondents opposed extending the mission, up from 55 percent in January. No
margin of error was given.
Japan's Kyodo News service reported Wednesday that Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet would decide Dec. 8 to allow its 600 troops to
stay for another year, but it could decide later to withdraw troops around
A British drawdown would be the most dramatic.
Although Prime Minister Tony Blair's government insists there is no
timetable and British forces will leave only when Iraqi troops can take
over, Defense Secretary John Reid suggested last month that a pullout could
begin "in the course of the next year."
South Korea, the second-largest coalition partner after Britain, is
expected to withdraw about 1,000 of its 3,200 troops in the first half of
2006. The National Assembly is likely to vote on the matter this month.
Italy's military reportedly is preparing to give parliament a
timetable for a proposed withdrawal of its 2,800 troops. Premier Silvio
Berlusconi's government has said it plans to withdraw forces in groups of
300, but in accordance with the Iraqi government and coalition allies.
Poland's former leftist government, which lost Sept. 25 elections,
had planned to withdraw its 1,400 troops in January. The new defense
minister, Radek Sikorski, visits Washington this weekend for talks on
Poland's coalition plans, and the new government is expected to decide by
mid-December whether to extend its mission beyond Dec. 31.
"Some formula of advisory-stabilizing mission could remain on a
smaller scale, of course, and our commanders are prepared for several
variants," Col. Zdzislaw Gnatowski of the Polish army's general staff told
The Associated Press.
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Australian Defense
Force, has said about 450 troops in the southern province of Muthanna could
leave by May. Australia has about 900 troops and support staff across Iraq.
Many coalition members have pledged to stay in Iraq for all of 2006;
at least one, Lithuania, has committed to the end of 2007. And the coalition
is still drawing new members, most recently Bosnia, which sent 36
bomb-disposal experts in June.
"We are getting letters of gratitude from the U.S. commanders for
our peacekeepers' excellent service," said Ilgar Verdiyev, a Defense
Ministry spokesman in Azerbaijan, which has 150 troops in Iraq and is one of
the few mostly Muslim countries to contribute.