- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a key backer of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, said yesterday his country was “misled” by Bush administration claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but insisted the world was still better off with the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Kwasniewski was the second leader of a close European ally in less than a week to question prewar estimates of Saddam’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Monday accused President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of waging the war on the basis of “lies” about Iraq’s weapons programs.

South Korea, another U.S. ally with forces committed to Iraq, said early today it has scrubbed plans to send troops to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, citing U.S. pressure to participate in “offensive operations.”

But the Defense Ministry in Seoul said it will still send forces to help rebuild the country.

The ministry said it was looking for another location to send the promised 3,600 troops.

The dispatch, making South Korea the biggest coalition partner after Britain, was scheduled to come as early as next month. But today’s decision means the mission might be delayed.

The Polish president told a group of French journalists yesterday, “I personally think that today, Iraq without Saddam Hussein is a truly better Iraq than Iraq with Saddam Hussein.”

“But,” he added, “naturally I also feel uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction,” according to a transcript supplied by the president’s office. “We were taken for a ride.”

With some 2,400 troops in Iraq, Poland has the third-largest deployment after the United States and Britain and oversees a 9,500-troop multinational force patrolling a region south of Baghdad.

Meeting with reporters later in the day, Mr. Kwasniewski stood by his remarks, but said even U.S. and British leaders were misled by intelligence reports consistently indicating Iraq had not accounted for large stocks of unconventional weapons.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli defended U.S. prewar estimates of Saddam’s arsenals and said U.S. officials were not concerned about Poland’s commitment to the Iraq reconstruction mission despite the president’s comments.

“The fact that we haven’t found any actual stockpiles came as a surprise to us,” said Mr. Ereli. “The search is not over.”

Mr. Zapatero, elected three days after terrorist attacks in Madrid killed more than 200 people, has vowed to pull Spain’s 1,300 troops out of Iraq in July unless the United Nations approves a new resolution authorizing the mission.

Mr. Kwasniewski said Polish troops could begin withdrawing from Iraq at the start of 2005 — six months ahead of the previously announced date — but only because the stabilization effort and the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities are proceeding so well.

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