Poles In Iraq III

Back to Poland, and on the news front there’s still little to report concerning the current deployment of Polish troops to the Middle East for eventual duty in the Polish security sector in Iraq. What I find today I find in Gazeta Wyborcza (and I confess that not everything cited here is dated 7 August). There’s this news item about further troops flying out: About 250 soldiers this time, of the Tenth Mechanized Battalion, flying out of Wroclaw, their commander proudly mentions that they’ve been well-trained for their mission, starting from the end of last year, peace-keeping, building-searching, convoy-running, yada yada. Much better is this: Been wondering exactly where the Polish sector in Iraq is going to be? Then check out this dynamite map on Gazeta Wyborcza‘s site (in .jpg format, and of course with accompanying Polish text). Looks like they drew the short straw: Their area straddles the Tigris and Euphrates just south of Baghdad, and includes such past trouble-spots as Karbala, Najaf, and al-Hilla. Well wait a second, this is in the mostly Shiite region, and I do believe that the Shiites have become more cooperative with the occupation lately, at least to some extent. (See my recent reporting from the German press about the plum cabinet jobs Shiite politicians are being assigned by the Governing Council.) Most violent trouble these days – or at least most reported trouble – seems to come from Baghdad and the “Sunni triangle” further north, places like Tikrit and around al-Fallujah.

If the news side is still sparse, on the commentary side we’ve hit the mother lode with Maciej Letowski’s piece for Gazeta Wyborcza entitled Nikt nie rodzi sie zolnierzem, or “Nobody Is Born a Soldier.”

This editorial dovetails in a very pleasing way with my next-to-last posting about the Hungarians being ready to cut-and-run from their occupation duties in Iraq (and keep in mind that they’ll be in the Polish sector, under Polish command) if things start to get nasty. (Come to think of it, the piece also dovetails well with at least the title of my last posting – “Not Chicken at the Prospect of Further Attacks” – although this was unintentional, the product (at most) of some inner Freudian process which my conscious self is unable to describe.) For one of its main points is that the Polish public might itself be quite ready also to advocate the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq if they start dying there from hostile fire.

The main problem according to Letowski, you see, is that the Polish government is simply not talking to its electorate about what is going on for Poland regarding Iraq. It wasn’t talking earlier this year – it sent those 300 commandos to participate in the war without explaining to the Polish people why it was doing so, even though public opinion polls at the time showed that the Polish people were against such a dispatch of Polish troops. It’s not talking now, even as further Polish troops depart, in yet-greater numbers and to the spurious cry of “they’ll be back in six months,” to what could well turn out to be a dangerous peace-keeping mission in the heart of occupied Iraq. Instead, it has all just been a limited circle of top government officials deciding what Poland should do, with the general public at best getting explanations like “Since we’ve done ‘a’ – i.e. participated in the invasion, so that we have troops already there – then we obviously will go on to do ‘b’ – i.e. help with the occupation, especially since we’ve been acknowledged as a special partner of the US and assigned our own security sector.” But that’s a bogus explanation, as Letowski points out: other countries – Australia comes to mind – found the best course for themselves in doing “a” but not going on to do “b.” So there is no prima facie argument why Poland could not have done the same.

As it happens, Letowski himself does recognize that Poland should volunteer for “b,” i.e. for occupation duty, even absent the discovery of any of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. There is therefore a real argument out there available to be made for flying thousands of troops over there to the line of fire, an argument that reasonable, thinking people could even accept. The point is that it is incumbent on the government to make it! For, as he points out, casualties there will inevitably be – not just casualties from accidents (more-or-less par for the course for a deployed military), but certainly casualties from hostile fire, too. Furthermore, let’s take off the rose-colored glasses: That Polish engagement in Iraq (just like the American engagement, and everyone else’s) will last not just six months, but for years.

Unless, of course, the Polish government decides to end it prematurely, in the same way that Hungarian defense minister Ferenc Juhász has discussed openly. Letowski cites figures that 58 percent of Poles currently advocate getting their troops back out of Iraq if they start to be killed in hostile action; he expresses his fear of a “Vietnam syndrome on a smaller, Polish scale” if the gap between public opinion – which wants the troops out – and government opinion – which realizes that doing so would be tremendously harmful to Poland’s international standing and interests – gapes too large. “Public discussion,” he writes, “is the best means to familiarize them [the Polish people] with the unfamiliar, and to prepare them for the worst.” Poland’s government needs to start such a public discussion immediately.

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