Polish Sector in Iraq Watch I

After considerable time, effort, and expense (see previous posts for the details), my Polish has been considerably re-charged. And just in time, too: this first week in August marks the deployment of Polish troops to the Middle East, to eventually take up security duties in the assigned Polish security sector in Iraq. To be more specific, the Polish troops first fly to Kuwait – starting today, 4 August – to start with two weeks of acclimatization. Then they will join the 400 Polish troops already in Iraq for some military exercises. Finally, around 3 September they will begin formally taking up security responsibility for their assigned sector, in central Iraq to the north of Babylon. The International Division in charge of that sector, under Polish command, will number some 9,300 troops of 25 different nationalities.

For me, this offers a fascinating parallel phenomenon to the experiences of the American and British troops already present in Iraq and trying to bring some security and rebuilding to that country. So I think it might be interesting, for me and for the burgeoning ranks of my beloved readers, to start a semi-regular “Iraq Watch” feature in which I try to report from the Polish press on current Polish attitudes to what their troops are doing over there. As we know too well, things are going rather less well than expected for the American troops, who have been dying in low but regular numbers (to accidents, but also rather often as the result of deliberate attacks) since major combat there ceased back in April. For British troops, too, I hasten to add. Similar difficulties for the Poles seem inevitable. Indeed, last Thursday as President Alkesander Kwasniewski was bidding the troops farewell at two different, widely-separated military bases in Poland, someone was already mortaring a Polish base inside Iraq – but causing no casualties or even material damage, according to the BBC World Service report.

Poland is new at this sort of thing; actually, as I remember how it was expressed in a commentary I heard on Polish radio, the Poles are different from the Brits and the Americans in that their history (and particularly their recent history) has in fact been one of being the occupied, not the occupier. Will this matter? Might this make them more sensitive to the plight of local Iraqis, and so able to enjoy better, more peaceful relations with them? Poland is new to NATO, new to overseas deployments; make no mistake that there is doubt out there as to whether they are up to the assignment, notwithstanding the help they will be provided by twenty-four other nation-friends. Of course, I wish them well, but the Polish deployment should still be rather interesting to observe – starting from the assertion in one picture caption that those troops will surely be over there for (only) six months – and I invite you to look over my shoulder as I do so.

That picture-caption, and the details of the Polish deployment that I cite up in my first paragraph, come from last Friday’s paper edition of the leading Polish daily Rzeczpospolita. That’s why I can’t provide you with the links. (Another reason is that I haven’t yet figured out how to work Rzeczpospolita’s on-line archives.) Strangely, considering the troops actually starting flying out today, there’s little coverage to be found on the subject in today’s Polish press. From the leading paper, Gazeta Wyborcza, how about . . . a news item reporting the departure of 45 Lithuanian soldiers from their homeland to Szczecin, in Poland (the site of one of the bases from which the Polish soldiers going to Iraq come from), from whence they will join the Polish soldiers in flying to Kuwait, for acclimatization and training, and later in helping to man the Polish sector. It seems that there are already 43 Lithuanians service in the British sector in Iraq.

Today’s Rzeczpospolita does go a bit further – but not by much – in an article that starts off by discussing the burial on Saturday, in the town of “Owia” (Polish spelling) near Tikrit, of Saddam’s Husseins two sons. (And also one son of Qusay – fourteen-year-old Mustafa, buried at the same ceremony. It seems he died in the same shoot-out in Mosul that killed his father and uncle.) It then goes on to quote American administrator Paul Bremer, to the effect that the informant who led American soldiers to Uday and Qusay has now been paid his 30 million dollars and has been moved together with his family to a safe location outside of Iraq. Now, Bremer asks, who wants to earn the 25 million dollars and passage outside of the country with his family for turning in Saddam?

Elsewhere, much the same, or less. Dziennik Polski, out of Krakow, reports W Iraku bez zmian – which could fairly be translated as “All Quiet on the Iraqi Front”: no recent attacks on American soldiers, just the burial of Uday and Qusay – and Paul Bremer making all that he can out of the 30 million dollar payment and whisking out of the country of the person who fingered the Hussein sons, and his (was it a “he”?) family. Twenty-six Baath Party soldiers arrested; 166 grenades, ten Kalashnikovs, 200 million Iraqi dinars (= around $120,000) and other useful military stuff captured in connection with these arrests; a special medical group sent by the American military to Iraq to investigate the outbreaks of pneumonia there, which have already killed two American soldiers and caused fifteen to be evacuated to American military hospitals in Germany.

So it’s a quiet time in the Polish press, as the soldiers prepare to actually fly away. Here’s hoping that it remains largely quiet; no news is probably good news. But, if there is interesting news in this area, I’ll try to let you know what it is.

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