Poland to withdraw its troops from more of Iraq: Defence Minister

Agence France Presse
Sept 3 2004

WARSAW (AFP) Sep 03, 2004 -- Poland will hand over another part of the
zone it administers in Iraq under a planned reduction of its forces
next year, Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said in an interview
published Friday. The key US ally, which heads a multinational force
of 6,500 administering a swathe of south central Iraq to which it
sent more than 2,500 of its own troops, will hand over control of
the province of Karbala, he said.

"We will leave the province of Karbala. The contingent will remain
deployed in the provinces of Babil, Wasit and Al-Qadisiyah," the
defence minister said in an interview with the daily Trybuna.

He did not specify which forces would assume responsibility in
Poland's place.

Last month, Polish troops in Iraq already handed over some of the
zone they control to US forces, including the province of Najaf,
the scene of fierce fighting with Shiite militiamen.

Szmajdzinski confirmed that Poland was expecting to reduce troop levels
in Iraq after the Iraqi elections in January and also announced that it
will hand over its troops' headquarters in the Iraqi city of Babylon
to the Iraqis.

"We have decided to hand over Babylon to the Iraqis. The headquarters
will probably move to the province of Al-Qadisiyah (south of Baghdad),"
he said.

His comments came as Warsaw hosted a two-day conference of military
experts from the 11 nations in the Polish-led sector and the United
States to thrash out plans to cut back the Polish military presence
in Iraq.

"We are not in a position today to determine the size of the next
contingent (which will take over in January). This will depend on
the situation in Iraq, on the political process and the progress in
forming an Iraq army, which is due to replace us," Szmajdzinski said.

"I remain moderately optimistic about the months ahead. We should
have the chance to reduce the contingent," he added.

Amid strong popular opposition to the Polish troop deployment and
continued unrest in the embattled country, the government in Warsaw is
under domestic pressure to significantly scale back Poland's military
involvement in Iraq.

Despite the Polish reduction, one more country will contribute a small
number of troops to the multinational force, the Polish deputy chief
of staff, General Mieczyslaw Cieniuch, said.

The former Soviet republic of Armenia will send at the end of November
or early December a contingent of "several dozen military personnel,
specialists in logistics, bomb disposal experts and doctors," he told
a press conference.