Poles to stay in Iraq another year


Iraq: Poland's government has said it will keep its troops in Iraq until the end of 2006, longer than earlier planned, reaffirming its backing for the United States despite growing opposition at home.

The previous left government, which stood up to EU heavyweights Germany and France by firmly supporting the US-led war in Iraq, planned to pull troops out early next year after gradually reducing its forces this year.

Prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz told a news conference yesterday: "This is a very difficult decision, but we take into consideration the fact that the mandate of UN stabilisation forces has been extended to the whole of 2006 and, secondly, strong requests of Iraqi authorities that we stay there."

Deputy defence minister Stanislaw Koziej said Poland's military force in Iraq would be reduced to 900 next March.

Poland has 1,500 troops in south-central Iraq, the fifth biggest contingent after the US, Britain, South Korea and Italy.

Warsaw's decision is a boost for President Bush, who has cited Poland as a key member of the "coalition of the willing" in the face of criticism at home over the rising toll and costs of the war and dwindling international forces in Iraq.

US military allies such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Ukraine, whose troops were part of the Polish-led multinational division in south-central Iraq, have already decided to pull out. - (Reuters)