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Poland to cut number of troops in Iraq by around one-third
Updated: 2004-12-15 12:48

Poland plans to cut the size of its force in the US-led coalition in Iraq from 2,400 troops to 1,700 in mid-February, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski announced.

However, he said another 700 troops based in Poland would be on standby to be deployed to the war-torn country if needed.

Poland was a key US ally in the war which toppled Saddam Hussein and is now the third largest contributor of soldiers to Iraq after the United States and Britain, commanding a multinational division of some 6,500 troops, including 2,400 Poles, within the US-led coalition.

Seventeen Poles -- 13 military and four civilians -- have been killed there since the Polish deployment in August 2003. A Polish woman also spent three weeks as a hostage in Iraq before being freed in mid-November.

Polish officials have indicated they want to end the unpopular troop deployment, starting at the end of January after the Iraqi election.

"The presence of Polish soldiers during the election campaign and during the elections in Iraq will be maintained at the current level of 2,400," Szmajdzinski said.

"The withdrawal and the arrival of the new replacement troops will take place only during the first half of February," he added.

He said that after the elections, Warsaw would reassess the situation and would determine long-term prospects for its presence in Iraq.

The minister made it clear that Poland's allies in the coalition had been informed of the decision "which should not be a surprise for anyone."

He added that the troop reduction and keeping some troops on standby will make it possible "to reduce the financial cost of the operation.

The Polish government is to spend 216 million zlotys (51.5 million euros or US$68 million) in 2005, up from 248 million zlotys this year.

The government's decision still has to be approved by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, which appears to be a mere formality as he has already called for a gradual and planned withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq.

According to a survey of a representative sample of 988 people by the CBOS institute in early November, 72 percent of Poles oppose the presence of their soldiers in Iraq while 24 percent are in favor.

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