IMAGE: Britain's Brown in Iraq
Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AFP - Getty Images
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, center, shakes hands with a British Royal Engineer during a visit to a U.K. base in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Oct. 2.
updated 10/9/2007 3:46:27 PM ET 2007-10-09T19:46:27

Britain’s decision to bring half of its 5,000 soldiers home from Iraq by spring is the latest blow to the U.S.-led coalition. The alliance is crumbling, and fast: Excluding Americans, the multinational force was once 50,000 strong — by mid-2008, it will be down to 7,000.

President Bush, facing opposition to the war from the Democrat-led Congress, also is paring back. He says he is committed to gradually reducing the American force from its current peak of 168,000 soldiers to just over 130,000 by next summer.

U.S. troops already are stretched thin trying to contain Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslim extremists. But defense experts say the shrunken coalition probably won’t make much of a difference because most of the non-U.S. forces have largely stuck to non-combat roles.

“This is a U.S. and Iraqi coalition — nothing more and nothing less,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, former director of intelligence assessment at the Pentagon and now an analyst with the private Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“A British withdrawal and that of other countries really doesn’t matter very much. They’re playing a very limited role,” he said Tuesday.

A crumbling coalition
What’s certain is this: The alliance has withered dramatically since its peak in the months after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

At its height, in the months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the multinational force numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries — 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians.

By January of this year, though, the combined non-U.S. contingent had dwindled to just over 14,000. As of Tuesday, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

It’s in for more unraveling: Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that Britain will halve its remaining force of 5,000 next spring, and another official said there were no guarantees any British troops would remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2008.

The latest defectors include Denmark, which withdrew a 460-strong contingent from the southern Iraqi city of Basra in August and replaced it with a small helicopter unit.

In a recent newspaper interview, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen conceded his country and other coalition members miscalculated when they thought “that foreign troops would be welcomed with open arms like liberators.” Seven Danes were killed in Iraq.

Nations mull withdrawals
The coalition will wither more in the coming months.

Georgia said last month it will slash its peacekeeping contribution from 2,000 to around 300 by next summer. Defense Minister David Kezerashvili said the decision was worked out with the Pentagon.

El Salvador, the only remaining Latin American member of the alliance, cut its contingent from 380 to 300 in August and says it expects to draw down further if the situation in Iraq improves.

On Sunday, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic said his country was working on a plan to gradually withdraw its 100 soldiers, who guard a British base in southern Iraq. Their current mandate expires Dec. 31.

The minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, declined to provide details on the timing of a pullout, saying the Czechs still needed to consult with their allies.

Even staunch U.S. partners have given in to growing public and political opposition to get out.

“You have seen this become a globally unpopular war,” Cordesman said. “Most of the world sees it as unjust and sees the United States as having effectively lost because it went to war for the wrong reasons.”

Poland, South Korea stand fast
Yet two key allies — Poland and South Korea — have signaled they will stand by the United States.

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said Tuesday his government won’t decide whether to withdraw its 900 soldiers from Iraq until after the U.S. national election next year.

The Poles have ruled out “escape or desertion, because that would mean losing everything that we’ve gained,” Kaczynski told Polish state Radio 1. “It’s going to be necessary to wait on the results of the American elections.”

Officially, South Korea is still undecided, and public discontent over its deployment of 1,200 soldiers runs high. But Bush has pressed President Roh Moo-hyun to extend the mission, and recent South Korean news reports suggest the government appears to be leaning that way.

The United States also can count on a handful of smaller stalwarts.

Australia’s government has rebuffed calls by political opponents to pull out its 550 combat soldiers from southern Iraq.

Romania, too, says it has no plans to withdraw its 600 peacekeepers.

“This is not a subject,” said Valeriu Turcan, spokesman for President Traian Basescu, the nation’s commander in chief.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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