Poland’s government announced Tuesday that it had decided to keep its troops in Iraq until the end of next year — longer than earlier planned — thus reaffirming its backing for the United States despite growing domestic opposition.
The government, which stood up to European Union heavyweights Germany and France by firmly backing the U.S.-led war in Iraq, planned to pull troops out in early 2006 after gradually reducing its forces in the course of this year.
“The government decided to ask the president to extend the deployment of Polish military forces as part of the international forces in Iraq from Jan. 1, 2006 until Dec. 31, 2006,” Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz told a news conference.
“This is a very difficult decision, but we take into consideration the fact that the mandate of U.N. stabilization forces has been extended to the whole of 2006 and, secondly, strong requests of Iraqi authorities that we stay there,” he said.
Under Polish law, the president approves overseas military deployments as the armed forces' commander in chief. Kaczynski, who took office last week, has until the end of the month to decide. However, this is seen as a formality.
Deputy Defense Minister Stanislaw Koziej told the news conference Poland’s military force in Iraq would be reduced to 900 in March 2006. He said the focus of Poland’s presence would also shift towards the training of Iraqi forces.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that the last Ukrainian troops had left Iraq.