Danish troops to stay in Iraq

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COPENHAGEN — Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday that the furor over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad had “strengthened our resolve for the long haul” and that Danish troops would remain in Iraq.

In an interview with The Washington Times in his Copenhagen office, Mr. Rasmussen brushed off a Danish television report of plans to cut Denmark’s 530-man deployment in Iraq by nearly one-fifth in July.

“It is clearly our intention to stay in Iraq as long as we are requested by the Iraqi government, as long as our presence is based on a U.N. mandate, and as long as we believe we can make a positive difference on the ground,” the center-right Danish leader said.

Mr. Rasmussen and his conservative coalition, which includes the Danish People’s Party, faced heavy criticism for their initial response to global Muslim riots in February, which were prompted by the publication four months earlier of editorial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

But the most recent polls show that conservative parties have benefited from the controversy.

“This cartoon affair will not change our basic policies. On the contrary, it has only strengthened our resolve to assist countries that are in the midst of very difficult social transformations,” Mr. Rasmussen said yesterday.

Mr. Rasmussen, who is facing calls from the country’s center-left opposition to withdraw from Iraq entirely, did not exclude “technical adjustments” to Denmark’s troop levels when the government seeks a new mandate for the current deployment expiring July 1.

He noted that the U.S. and British military are also adjusting their military strength in Iraq as the political situation evolves.

“But I want to make it clear that it is my intention and this government’s intention to stay in Iraq and finish the job,” he said.

The parliamentary vote on a new mandate for Denmark’s Iraq mission will be the first since a wave of violence across the Muslim world targeted Danish embassies and businesses.

The Danish leader is expected to discuss the Iraq mission and Denmark’s military missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo when he visits President Bush in Washington early next month.

Mr. Bush has invited Mr. Rasmussen and his wife to stay at the presidential retreat at Camp David.

U.S. Ambassador to Denmark James P. Cain said the Camp David invitation wasn’t explicitly tied to Denmark’s cartoon troubles, but reflected a broader convergence of U.S.-Danish relations and gratitude in Washington for the large contributions the small nation was making militarily and financially in the global war on terror.

The Danish government, he said, had resisted any temptation to use the cartoon difficulties as an excuse to pull away from its U.S. ties or its global commitments.

“I think if some of our other allies — France, Germany and Italy for example — could do on a pro rata basis what the Danes have done, let’s just say the world might be a safer place than it is now,” Mr. Cain said.

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