- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

From combined dispatches

WARSAW — Poland’s leaders floated the idea yesterday of withdrawing troops from Iraq by the end of next year, giving the first timetable for a planned pullout by the staunch Washington ally.

The deputy prime minister of Italy, another important ally, suggested in Cairo on Saturday that his country could pull its troops out of Iraq after elections scheduled for January, saying they will no longer be needed once a representative government is in place.

Poland’s defense minister, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, said yesterday that most troops should leave Iraq by the end of 2005, the first mention of a specific date. President Aleksander Kwasniewski also spoke of such a time frame for withdrawal, but said no exact date had been set yet.

Poland has 2,500 soldiers in south-central Iraq and runs a multinational division of 8,000 troops there. It has said it plans to “significantly” scale down its military presence in Iraq after the January elections.

Seventeen Poles have died during the 13-month-old deployment, and opinion polls show nearly three quarters of the public oppose the presence of Polish troops in Iraq, putting pressure on Prime Minister Marek Belka to present a pullout plan.

The remarks in Cairo by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, made after a meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, were the first public indication of when Italy might withdraw its 3,000 troops from Iraq.

“Whenever there is an Iraqi government that represents all Iraqis in a free way, there will be no need for foreign troops to remain in Iraq,” Mr. Fini said through an interpreter.

He didn’t say whether he expected the elections — threatened by violence in several parts of the country — to produce a representative government. But he said it was necessary “to enable the Iraqi people … to carry out elections and form an Iraqi government — a free one.”

In Warsaw, Mr. Szmajdzinski told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that the troop withdrawal should coincide with the expiration at the end of 2005 of a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorses Iraq’s current interim government.

A handful of Polish officers and observers could stay longer as part of any continued stabilization mission, he added.

Mr. Kwasniewski, visiting French President Jacques Chirac, said it might be possible to “maybe finish our mission at the end of 2005,” but that discussions on the matter continued. “We have to behave in a responsible fashion,” he said.

Mr. Belka said he had not authorized Mr. Szmajdzinski to announce a timetable, which departs from Warsaw’s long- standing position that troops would remain in Iraq “as long as it takes” to complete their mission.

Mr. Szmajdzinski’s statement followed demands from the junior partner in the ruling coalition for an initial timetable for the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq. Two opposition parties are collecting signatures for a public petition to highlight discontent over the deployment.

Mr. Belka’s minority government faces a parliamentary vote of confidence later this month, which it expects to win. General elections are due by mid-2005, when the ruling left is expected to lose to the center-right opposition, which also supported Poland’s military involvement in Iraq.

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